I’m hoping that I’m not the only human being with a seemingly insatiable appetite for self-improvement. For every issue of Maxim sitting on my shelf, I have many more books on how to get rich, talk to women, get fit, lose weight, get ripped six-pack abs, win fights, or learn a new language. I am a self-confessed junkie for personal improvement and growth.
The problem with this pathological obsession for being richer, tougher, smarter, sexier and fitter is that I don’t think any of these self-help books have done me any good. And here’s why. There is no shortcut to success.
The reality is that it will take us our entire lives to become the men we want to be. It’s kind of like Groundhog Day when Bill Murray has to go through despair, compassion, hedonism, love and even death before he can achieve that sense of grace. The writer of the script said he envisioned his character being reborn every day for 10 years. The director thought more. 10,000 years he reckons it took for the character to find contentment.
I’d always felt distinctly average in everything I have done until recently. I’ve found what I consider to be my winning formula to get myself fitter, stronger, and healthier than I have ever been before. In just two short months I’ve lost 20lbs of fat while increasing my muscle mass, bench pressing 180lbs and squatting 270lbs. Now I know these aren’t ground breaking figures, but for me they are. The best thing is that I’m improving every day. It’s not just my fitness that has seen the benefit. I’ve got improved clarity and am able to think more clearly about my goals and how I want to achieve them, and I feel happy all the time. A major improvement on the back end of last year.
So how did I do it? Well, here are the seven habits that I have adopted religiously in my pursuit of physical success.
Habit #7 - MotivationFor me, the hardest part in my pursuit of fitness was giving myself a reason to go to the gym. I’d quite often find myself making excuses for not going. It got so bad that I actually stopped making excuses and just didn’t go at all. After seeing myself in the mirror one evening after a shower, something inside me clicked and I made the decision there and then that I was going to get my fitness back.
The best way to motivate yourself in order to get out of the kind of slump I was in is to make a goal and focus on it 100%. My first goal was to lose fat, improve my cardiovascular fitness and look good in the mirror. Whenever I think about quitting (which is very rarely) I think back to how I looked in the mirror that evening and it keeps me going. You need to find whatever trigger you need to motivate you. It could be how you look, how someone you admire looks or how your girlfriend feels about your body.
Another great way to keep yourself motivated is setting short term goals. When you achieve them, it feels great and keeps you pushing on to achieve more. It could be that you want to increase your squatting by 20% or something as simple as doing 5×100m sprints on the rowing machines with 100m slow rowing between them in 5 minutes. Create achievable short term goals and make them more difficult each week.
Habit #6 - DesireThis habit directly relates to your motivation and can be a motivating trigger itself. For me, I used my desire and passion for self-help to continually strive for improvement. Part of being that man we want to be is having the desire to do something out of the ordinary and this craving is what keeps us going.
I like to think that my desire is strongest when I’m in the gym lifting weights. When I’m struggling to finish that 5th rep of 270lbs on the squat rack, there is nothing I want more in the entire world at that very moment than to complete my set. I purposely block out everything in my life for those few moments and focus all of my desire and energy on squeezing out one last rep.
Your desire comes back to what motivates you to workout in the first place. Whether you want to lose weight or build strength, it’s quite simply a case of how badly you want it. I’m quite lucky in that I’m very much an all-or-nothing kind of guy and so I give 110% and never give up until I complete the goals I set myself at the beginning of the workout. You need to man up and be strong. Not just physically, but when your body is tired and you feel like finishing 1 rep shy of the set you need the mental strength to force another one out.
Habit #5 - ReflectionThis is a very powerful habit that is often overlooked and sometimes even laughed at but when used correctly, it can fuel both your desire and your motivation to succeed. It involves reflection throughout the day on the workout you’ve done. If you dominated on the deadlift and set a new record for yourself, you should hold on to that for the rest of the day. How could you improve on it? Was your technique flawless? Not only will it help you to better yourself next time you perform the lift, but thinking about a good working makes you feel great. The endorphins are still flowing and you’re naturally on a high. There’s no bigger incentive to head back to the gym than when it makes you feel good. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously once compared working out to ‘coming’ and let’s face it, if we all felt like that after a workout maybe we’d get a physique like he had!
Another source of reflection is the mirror. The mirror doesn’t lie and is a terrific way of judging your progress. Being able to see a slight hint of six-pack after years of a beer belly can be extremely motivating to force you to burn off that stubborn bit of remaining fat. I like to use the mirror as a way of determining my goals too. Once I’d cut my body fat and could see my abs, I noticed my shoulders were underdeveloped and immediately began to focus on body dips and standing shoulder press exercises. The mirror is a weapon in your arsenal, so use it.
Habit #4 - RestingRest is essential to allow our muscles to repair and grow, and it gives you time to focus on your state of mind too. One of the biggest mistakes I made in earlier years was not giving my muscles time to recover before working out again. The result was that I was unable to lift to the maximum of my ability in the gym because my muscles were still sore and weak. This obviously resulted in a strength plateau which, at the time, I assumed was down to my routine and simply switched the exercises. Needless to say that didn’t work and I have now come to embrace rest as a very valuable part of a successful fitness routine.
Resting doesn’t mean just sitting around doing nothing though. I like to use rest time to challenge my mind through creative writing or memory exercises. In addition to that, I use visualisation to focus on my muscles development. Actually meditating on the muscles and tissues themselves and visualise them healing and growing. It works really well, especially when done during a deep tissue massage. You may need to smooth-talk your girlfriend into that though!
Habit #3 - EatingWhen I was a teenager, I was extremely active and I could eat whatever I wanted without putting on a single pound. These days, however, it’s a whole different ball game and I do watch what I eat. I’ve never been a big advocate of calorie counting because preparing food is a big enough chore without having to get all mathematically as well! Instead, I try to focus on eating natural, healthy foods such as fish, chicken, eggs, wholemeal bread/rice/pasta. In fact, I’d say that 90% of my meals consist of at least one of those foods.
Now, I’m fairly lucky because I don’t really need much variety in my food to keep me satisfied. I only eat to provide my body with the necessary fuel to repair and build my muscles. This suits me fine because I hate planning ahead anyway. However, if you do need variety then I suggest setting up a weekly meal plan. It’s a bit of a pain to plan out your food consumption in this way but in the long term you’ll benefit exponentially from it.
One thing I always know about with each meal however is the amount of protein I’m consuming. I try to get in about 30-40g per meal x 5-6 meals each day. It’s the only thing I obsess over when preparing food and I can be a bloody nightmare about it! As a general rule of thumb, you should be aiming to consume 1g of protein per lb of body weight. Therefore, if you weigh 200lbs, you would try to get 200g of protein each day. Personally, I try to get it through all natural sources such as egg, chicken, tuna, beef because protein powders cost a fortune when you think how many tins of tuna you could get for the same price (there is approx. 30g of protein per 130g drained tuna).
Habit #2 - ProgressionI got into a nasty habit early in my fitness routines in which I’d bench and squat the exact same amount of weight for weeks and sometimes even months. Initially, my muscles got sore and I had to recover before working out again but over time, my body adapted and the weight just wasn’t challenging my muscles anymore which meant they never got bigger or stronger.
I never made the correlation between the lack of growth and lifting the same weight week-in and week-out. It’s actually blindingly obvious that if you want to get bigger and stronger, your workouts need to progress. This is one of the most useful habits I have ever adopted because my body is now in a constant state of change. I add weight to my workouts session to session and have seen a massive improvement in strength and size as a direct result. It also makes it more difficult for my muscles to plateau because I am constantly stressing them with an increased load.
Just like anything in life, you need to progress to achieve more and this is no exception. If you wanted to earn more money at work, you’d progress to a higher position with more responsibility. If you want to lose weight or build muscle you need to progress to more challenging cardio workouts or heavier weights. If you’re looking to lose fat and build muscle then you need to head on over to Strong Lifts for more information on how strength training can improve your fitness.
Habit #1 - ConsistencyThis is the single most important habit of any workout routine and one that many people struggle to form. At this time of year, hundreds of thousands of people have probably quit, or just about to quit, their fitness routine. It starts as a new years resolution but never really becomes a habit, and so they quit.
The best way to remain consistent is to just go to the gym. Don’t waste time thinking about reasons to go or not to go, just go! And when you get there, focus all of your energy on your goals. I am so engrossed in my gym habit now that if I am unable to make it, it consumes me with guilt and stress. Yesterday I lost my gym card to get in and, because I was in the habit of going at 10.30 every day, I became agitated, frustrated and annoyed that I couldn’t go. In the end I went anyway and talked my way in by blaming my girlfriend for losing it! The point is, if you go to the gym (or workout at home) consistently at the same time every day for a long enough period of time it will become a habit. You won’t even need to think about it anymore and that’s the point.
Of course being consistent doesn’t just apply to going to the gym. You need to be consistent with all your other habits if you hope to succeed. For me, being consistent in cutting out junk food, working out at the same time 4-5x per week, progressing my workouts, motivating myself, resting and reflecting has fueled my desire and I could never go back to the sedentary lifestyle.
If you’re serious about getting fit and healthy, losing weight and building muscle then you need to form long-term habits today if you want to be successful.
If you’ve formed any habits not mentioned here, drop us a comment and let us know what it is and how it has improved your fitness routine.