You are super excited and motivated to get started on your New Year’s resolution of getting stronger and putting on some muscle. You know that doing this will help you better be able to perform your work, as well as be able to enjoy more of the recreational activities that you love to do in your spare time.
January was great! You hit the gym about 2-3x per week, and you definitely felt yourself getting stronger.
February was ok. You were able to go to the gym maybe 1-2x per week because two of your kids got sick. Oh, and this time of year is really busy with work. On top of that, your church volunteer group asked you to spearhead the youth program.
By mid-March, you are only going to the gym occasionally. Maybe once every other week. You think, “when everything gets less busy, I will get started again. I didn’t really see that much results anyway. I can do this another time. It’ll have to wait.” We become a slave to our stress and busyness.
Sound familiar? Many of us fall into the trap of what’s called the “pause-button mentality.” Basically, we hit pause on our goals when life starts to get “too busy.”
If we let ourselves slip into this mindset, our progress will stagnate, and we will never reach our goals. If we want to reach our goals, we have to be able to perform consistent behaviors over time, such as eating our fruits and vegetables, exercising, and getting enough quality sleep. Sorry, but there is no way around it.
So how can we continue to make progress toward our goals, even in the face of busyness and stress? Whereas developing a positive stress mindset can definitely help, there are times when busyness and even overwhelm may prohibit us from spending our time and energy on developing and cultivating our personal health & wellness.
Here are some things that might help:
Build your spiritual framework
Getting clear on your deepest morals, values, and priorities will help you know where to spend your best time and energy. When we have competing values in life, we can use our spiritual framework to decide which value you’d rather spend your time and energy on. This will help us not only manage our time according to what’s most important to us, but also help us make decisions on what to do with our life on a daily basis.
Click here to read more about building your spiritual framework. We also recommend downloading and performing the Big Rocks exercise to help you clearly define what’s important to you in life.
Apply the dial mindset
To combat the pause-button mentality, Precision Nutrition, one of the most prominent nutrition coaching and certification companies on the planet, recommends applying what’s called the “dial mindset.”
Life happens. When something comes up in life that is higher up on our priority list (your spiritual framework) than, say, your health & wellness, we often “drop” working on our health & wellness entirely while we tend to whatever came up.
However, it shouldn’t be so black and white. Health and wellness rarely is. We tend to think that, in the field of health and fitness, we are either “on the wagon” or off. I am either healthy or I am not. I am either fit or I am not. I am either eating all of my vegetables or I am not.
Precision Nutrition offers a more adaptive and beneficial approach to health & fitness: when something higher up on our priority list gets “dialed up,” we can simply “dial down” other areas that may be lower on our priority list, without bringing them to a complete stop. This is called the dial mindset.
Think about it on a scale. If your current situation allowed you to pour all of your time and energy into building a consistent and awesome exercise routine, this may be a 9 or a 10 out of 10. However, let’s say you just had a new baby, or maybe you’re on vacation, and working out 5x per week just isn’t that important or feasible right now. Instead of completely stopping, maybe you are just able to go on a 20-30 minute walk per day. This may be a 2, 3, or even a 4 on the scale, depending on the person. A 2 or a 3 is a heck of a lot easier and more sustainable than maintaining a 9 or a 10, especially when life gets busy. You may not see as much results as if you were consistently at a 7, 8, or 9, but at least it’s something pushing you in the direction you want to go, even if it is minimal.
In this way, we think of our health and fitness as more of a spectrum. What’s good for my given situation, what’s better, and what’s best? What am I able and willing to do with my health and wellness given my current situation?
Perform small & simple habits and behaviors
By small and simple means are great things come to pass.
Jeff Olsen, author of The Slight Edge, argues that our success in life, be it in our health & fitness, financial life, relationships, etc., is forged by small, seemingly insignificant behaviors performed consistently over time. Performing these small behaviors may not bring dramatic results immediately. In fact, the process itself will not be something glamorous (many programs and fads promise this extreme progress, only to have the downfall and relapse be just as extreme).
That’s why these behaviors are also easy not to do. By not doing these small behaviors (such as eating your vegetables), we may not see any dramatic negative results immediately.
Olsen uses the principle of compound interest to illustrate this. At the beginning, we may not see a ton of results. It is later on that we will gain huge momentum and begin to harvest dramatic results. Whether we harvest positive or negative results will depend on whether we cultivate positive or negative behaviors. It is these simple, sometimes daily behaviors that compound over time.
This part of health & fitness is black and white: we are either making progress or we are not. However, it is our rate of progress or decline that is more spectrum-like. This is where we can apply the dial mindset.
A word on self-compassion
We don’t have to take a hard-ass drill sergeant approach to health & fitness. It’s okay to struggle. It’s part of the human condition. It’s okay to need to dial a part of our life back to a 2 or a 3 for a time while we work on something else. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to not always have things going great.
If you ever feel yourself getting down because you aren’t as consistent in improving your health & fitness, consider the following:
And ask yourself in the moment:
- What am I observing?
- What am I thinking/feeling?
- What do I need right now?
- What do I request (of myself or others)?
For more information and resources on self-compassion, checkout self-compassion expert Kristen Neff’s website at https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/
Consider implementing one or two action steps from this article! Remember, start small, and be consistent with those small behaviors. It will reap massive results later on! So you can stop being a slave to busyness, stress, and overwhelm and start making progress in the areas of your life that are important to you!