When it comes to fitness, how do we get past the impossible? You know–how it’s impossible to find the time to exercise, stop your cravings, or [insert reason that you ended your New Years Resolution here]. Here’s how to break down any impossible fitness problem into something you can overcome.
Suppose we have an impossible-seeming problem–for instance, ending world hunger. (Yes, the irony of using a metaphor around world hunger here when most people are concerned with weight loss isn’t lost on me.) What if I told you that the solution to world hunger is simply feeding people more? Stop looking at me funny–you can’t deny that feeding the hungry would absolutely end world hunger!
But seriously. It should be intuitive that this is an idiotic solution, yet when it comes to fitness, people do this all the time without even blinking.
Here is a list of oft-cited fitness problems that many find impossible to overcome:
- I can’t stop my carbohydrate cravings.
- I never have time to exercise.
- I can’t lose weight because I binge eat.
The reason that these problems seem impossible, is because they’re not problems at all. They’re symptoms. In fact, focusing on symptoms instead of problems is the crux of why most people fail in fitness before even scratching the surface.
Unlike problems, symptoms are irreducible; you can’t break them up into actionable steps that further your progress. To make matters worse, they give an illusion of holding the answers to your fitness problems. Well duh. Of course they would be the effing cure-all to all fitness problems, because they are simply restating ways to eat less and move more. They aren’t valid solutions to your fitness any more than “feeding people more” is the solution to world hunger. Or that poor people should just make more money and spend less. Or that the Starks could win the Iron Throne if they just stopped dying. You get the point…
These “solutions” simply restate their original symptoms and not in a way that can be acted on. What we need to do is break the symptom down into problems and actionable steps to fix them. We can use the following steps in order to do so:
Step 1. Try to break your symptoms up into a smaller set of actionable problems. In order to uncover these problems, you must first ask “why?”
- Why do I crave carbs?
- Why don’t I ever have time to exercise?
- Why do I binge eat?
Step 2. Answer honestly. Asking “why” will require you to be mindful and do some self-reflection. Be honest with yourself, and break down these symptoms into their root problems.
- You crave carbohydrates because you don’t get enough sleep, and there is a link between sleep deprivation and the hormones associated with hunger and carbohydrate intake. You don’t get enough sleep because you use your laptop late in the day, and artificial light disrupts your sleep patterns.
- You don’t have time to exercise, because you only have time in the mornings and you’re too tired to wake up early.
- You binge eat because you always find yourself overshooting carbohydrates and fat by the end of the day, feel like your diet is ruined, then go off the rails.
Step 3. Create action steps associated with each problem. This part might require you to do a little bit of reading or seek help from someone more experienced. Here are some hypothetical solutions to the three examples above.
- Use a program like f.lux to make your computer light more sleep-friendly in the evenings. Cease computer usage one hour before bed.
- Nifty! That also fixed your morning exercise problem. (You’ll find that many symptoms are interrelated.)
- Use balancing macros in order to balance your target protein, fat, and carbohydrate totals by the end of the day. When the urge to binge eat arises again, use a totem in order to learn more.
When you break your symptoms up into problems, and then actionable tasks, what was once impossible becomes a very solvable puzzle. If you’re new and looking for a place to start, I suggest starting here.
Lastly, approach all solutions with self-compassion. Solving your personal fitness puzzle requires starting fresh, and that means forgiving yourself for past mistakes. In contrast, self-hate leads to a mindset that focuses on symptoms (“Why can’t I just control my cravings???” *OBLIGATORY TABLE FLIP*). The next time you focus on a symptom rather than a problem, just remember you’re essentially saying that we can end world hunger by feeding people more…i.e. you’re being an asshole when you should be kind to yourself.
Also, God kills a kitten, so there’s that.