Gratitude

Have you ever tried a gratitude challenge / journal?

I like the idea of practicing gratitude.  I think as new age as it can sound at first it’s actually a very practical and CBT based way of managing your own mental health.

The reality is it is very easy to see a negative and focus on it and feel bad because of it.  When you make the effort to try and look beyond that to positives, however small, it can start to transform how you feel in that moment.  The more you intentionally work to transform negative thoughts to positive ones the more naturally it comes and the more naturally it comes the easier it is to focus on the positives of a situation over the negatives.  So the act of practicing gratitude daily is a good way of training your brain and thus feeling better in yourself.

What isn’t so easy however is actually getting started.  At first completing a gratitude journal can feel somewhat ridiculous and getting started when you may not feel in a positive space is actually pretty hard.

I had CBT sessions back in 2016 when I was struggling with depression and anxiety.  At the time I thought the techniques I was shown in these sessions didn’t work – I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be able to turn situations around in my head or look beyond my situation as it was at that point.  Now, in a much better place, I see how useful the techniques actually are and use them frequently, but I continue to believe there is an irony in the fact that I actually needed to feel better to begin to practice the tools that could have made me feel better at the time.

Learning to manage your own mindset is a skill to be learnt and developed.  That is why social media posts telling people to just feel ‘positive vibes only’ and other such slogans irk me so much, gratitude isn’t something that is easy to just suddenly feel- particularly in challenging times.

This is why I particularly liked an Ebook that I recently downloaded that teaches you how to start approaching gratitude.  Rather than a book to record your own lists of what you are grateful for (I really like these too, I always think you’re far more likely to stick to things when you like the tools you are working with) this actually approaches how to do it.

It was produced by a small business called LSW London.  The company’s main product is actually a really pretty set of 45 cards with tasks to carry out to help you improve your mood (the idea is you take one out at random and complete it, almost teaching you habits that can help anchor you).  However they also have this Ebook (only £3.95) and several mindfulness based recordings to listen to (£2.99 each).

If you are unsure about how to get starting with the practice of gratitude I would highly recommend this ebook as a starting point to get you going.

Check out the LSW Website

 

Coming out of Lockdown? Do you have a Plan?

How weird is the world right now?

I spoke in a private Facebook coaching group yesterday about how I have genuinely found coming out of lockdown harder than going into it.

That surprised me because I was genuinely worried about my mental health prior to lockdown.  But in hindsight although the build up, uncertainty and speculation was anxiety inducing at the time it also meant I mentally prepared myself for the absolute worst, and because of that it was nowhere near as hard as I’d expected.  The rules weren’t as strict, I wasn’t arrested for buying non essentials with my shopping and I found a routine of sorts.  There were bad days of course but I coped.

What I didn’t think about was how to manage leaving lockdown.  I kind of assumed it would be easy- going back to normal.  That would be a positive not difficult.  Except it hasn’t been.  It’s been more stressful and emotional and overwhelming and anxiety inducing than I ever expected.

There’s two things I’ve since realised.

Firstly, we get used to things much quicker than we think we will.  So although I anticipated lockdown / work from home routine would be tough to adjust to, I had adjusted.  So going back into the office, things being more open has been another period of readjustment, and it’s continually changing.  Going into lockdown was very quick and a big change in one go, now things are evolving so every time I feel like I’ve got on an even footing things change a bit again.  Of course gyms are not open yet so I know that things will change again as they open and classes are integrated back into my week too.  The thing that threw me most about this is that I hadn’t really thought about how the change would impact me.  I thought as it was going back to normal it wouldn’t affect me at all and that lack of preparation on my part I think probably contributed to the feeling of overwhelm.  I’ve loved seeing real people again and getting back to a sense of reality but just because something is good in one sense doesn’t mean it isn’t also hard.

That brings me onto the second thing I’ve realised.

In March I expected a few weeks of lockdown then back to normal.  But we are not going back to normal.  Things are different, so you are going back to work and most things will be the same but some things won’t be.  That’s going to be the same for going back to the gym, going on a night out, to the pub, to the shops.  It isn’t bad or scary but it’s different and at first that is unsettling, because change is hard and takes adjustment.

So if I could give one piece of advice to people who are still essentially in lockdown and about to start easing that and going back out to work etc. be prepared.  The thought you put into how lockdown would affect you, put that same amount of thought into how you feel about this change.  being mentally prepared can help.  Give yourself time to adjust.  If you don’t train for the first week or so after you go back to work that’s ok, it’s likely to feel mentally and physically draining adjusting to the change so give yourself a break.  Finally know that it’s normal to feel unsettled by this, it’s the unknown and that sort of change makes most of us feel anxious, so you aren’t bad at coping if you are struggling a bit, you are normal so allow yourself time.

 

 

 

Dream Big; Reach for the Sky; Dream, Believe, Achieve; You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To and Other Pointless Quotes

Goals.

They are important right?  I mean if you are on Facebook or Instagram you get the idea of working towards your goals, knowing what your goal is, never losing sight of your goals thrust in your face daily.

I include me in that by the way.

I really do believe that having a goal that you really care about drastically increases your chances of adhering to your plans.  A goal is good, but it has to be one you are passionate about and that holds a genuine meaning for you so that it acts as your motivation.

Equally, saying to people don’t aim high, don’t set big goals would be limiting.  It’s cheesy to say if a goal doesn’t scare you it isn’t big enough but there’s something to be said for aiming higher than you currently think you can reach, thinking big if you like to encourage you to progress.

But we need to be entirely honest.  Not all goals are achievable.

So whilst you should aim big, you should also be realistic.

Let’s say you want a BMI under 25.  According to the NHS 25 or above is overweight.  So perhaps that’s your goal.  On paper that sounds reasonable, a healthy goal.  Is it realistic?  For me, not massively.

I’m 5 foot 11.  To have a BMI of a healthy range I should apparently weigh 140-170lbs (10 stone to 12 stone 1lb).  I actually weigh 13 stone 7lbs at present.  I’m not overweight, I’m not fat.  But to reach what at first sounds like a very reasonable goal I’d need to lose a minimum of 1 1/2 stone, that’s a lot given i’m not actually unhealthy or overweight at the moment.  I weighed 10 stone a few years ago for a while.  I sort of had had that lolipop look and could only maintain it by eating very little and exercising a lot.  It wasn’t in any way enjoyable or sustainable.

So for me a BMI of 25 or less might sounds reasonable but it isn’t really realistic.  To do what I do for a job, to train a I enjoy training and to keep as busy as I do I need fuel.  Naturally i sit around my current weight, happily, without restriction, with chocolate and alcohol.  So that reasonable sounding goal isn’t actually realistic.

You need to make a goal work for you. So it needs to be personal yes, it’s good for it to be big sometimes, but it also needs to be achievable or it serves about as much benefit as not having  goal – in fact probably less because it could have a negative effect on you if it makes you feel like you’ve failed.

Sometimes we can ignore the Social Media motivational quotes and be safe, boring and sensible with our goals and still get results.

Knowledge doesn’t equal application

Knowledge doesn’t equal application.

Several times over lockdown myself and my friend Jane have said to each other, why are we so much better at giving each other advice that dealing with the same situation ourselves?  It’s because when we look at other people’s problems we can approach them with a certain degree of dispassion that allows us to offer practical advice.  When we try and apply it to ourselves our emotions challenge the logic of said advice making it harder for us to follow.

Having knowledge on something is good, generally if you are approaching a situation you want to have at least a basic amount of knowledge.  Yet knowledge doesn’t take into account the surrounding factors which can cause complications and challenge even what we know to be correct.

So why is it important to acknowledge this?

By now if you read my blogs regularly you know how to lose weight.  You’ve heard the words calorie deficit many times.  Knowing a calorie deficit is required doesn’t make it easy to lose weight.  Exercise has lots of health benefits.  That knowledge doesn’t in turn make getting started with exercise easy.

Don’t get me wrong- knowledge is important.  Understanding why you are doing things and how they work is vital in making sustained changes.  But knowing in itself if only the first step.  You need to actually apply the knowledge for it to work.  It’s a bit like buying a load of lovely new gym kit.  That can be a great first step to getting yourself moving, but it is only beneficial if you do actually put it on and move.

So how do you get to the application stage?  I believe there are several points you need to reach:

  1. You need to have a reason, something that you feel strongly enough that it provides the motivation for you to start making changes.  For some people this might be push factors – the doctor says you must lose weight for your health or you must lower your blood pressure, other times it could be pull factors – a dress you’d like to fit into, you want to run a 10km.  Having a focus or goal can motivate you to apply your knowledge.
  2. You need to care about your reason.  Ever tried to do something that you didn’t really care about well?  It rarely turns out well, we need to care about what we are working towards – when you do something to please someone else or becasue you’re made to sticking to it becomes so much harder.
  3. You need to have a plan.  You’ve contemplated taking action enough to formulate a goal, a reason to make a change.  Now you need to plan how that change will be effective.  There’s rarely just one thing you can do to work towards a goal, yet sometimes the problem with having knowledge is it can be overwhelming in deciding what you should do.  Trying to do too much at once can be detrimental, so creating an action plan helps you implement knowledge with confidence.
  4. You need to have support to action your plan.  Maybe that’ a coach / PT – someone who can provide more direction and accountability, or perhaps it’s recruiting people around you to motivate you and hold you to account.
  5. You need to know progress isn’t linear.  You won’t see progress and change every week.  You won’t hit every target when you want to or expect to.  You will have weeks where you feel like you are going backwards.  That’s ok.
  6. You need to be flexible.  You might need to tweak or change your plan.  Knowing what you need to do and having a plan doesn’t mean than things can’t change- you might shift your own goal once you get started or you might find something isn’t quite working.  Flexibility will allow you a greater chance of creating change.
  7. You need to understand your own mindset.  If you accept that knowledge doesn’t equal application it’ also easy to understand that wanting to reach a goal doesn’t mean you will never sabotage yourself.  Understanding that you will have relapses, set backs and things won’t even go to plan but that doesn’t mean you are back to square one will help keep you on track.

If you’ve ever beaten yourself up because you aren’t where you want to be even though you know what you should be doing to get there stop.

Knowing and doing aren’t the same thing. Knowing is desirable.  Applying knowledge is a whole other skill set.

 

What Day Is It?

What day is it? Have you started to lose track a bit?

I’m still working so week v weekend still has some structure but not teaching classes means I’m a bit lost on the actual day. Normally the class I’ve taught that morning indicates the day of the week!

It becomes really hard to think of new things to write about, talk about when you stuck indoors almost all of the time.

I could talk about setting new goals or trying new things, using the time effectively, but actually as much as you might want to right now (and may even be doing so) it’s really tough.

Because yes you might have more time now.

But the other conditions in your life are different.

So you’ve been wanting to start that project and have just needed a few clear days, now you have them, but the project might have required things you can’t currently buy or going to locations you can’t currently get to.

So yes, now could be a great time to work on your side hustle or upping your game. Equally maybe those projects may have to be out on hold. That doesn’t mean your failing.

Perhaps instead there are other things you could do. These could be money making ideas but equally they could be self care things, things that do something positive for you.

Again I really didn’t know what to write about today because days are getting a bit Groundhog Day like.

But whatever you’re doing at the moment, it isn’t any less important than what anyone else is doing.

Training and Nutrition: Lockdown Edition

So here in the UK we are now coming up to a week into lockdown and a couple of weeks of concerted social distancing.  This has without a doubt had a dramatic impact on so many aspects of our lives.  I briefly did a blog on working last week but being a fitness related blog I wanted to take a moment to talk about how I’m approaching my fitness during this whole thing.

Obviously everyone will be different and depending what equipment you have at home and what your goals are how you approach your training and diet right now will vary.

For me, like a lot of people I would imagine, I have no equipment at home, very little space indoors and my garden is not really suitable for exercise (it’s all gravel) although there is a car park which I can make use of on the grounds.

So with that in mind I’ve decided to approach my training by forgetting about maintaining strength or fitness, forgetting about trying to improve in any particular way.  Instead I’m focusing on just moving and using moving in a way to feel good, stay mobile and benefit my mental health.

My general plan of action is to do a little yoga flow in the morning, go for a short run at some point to get some fresh air (literally 2- 3 km or some intervals / sprints/ pyramids) at lunch time and then do either some body weight training fro 2-30 minutes or an online class such as Les Mills On Demand in the evening.  This does mean I’m doing much less each day in terms of exercise but I am still keeping myself ticking over and feeling good.

Stretching and mobility work is going to be really important.  I’m sitting a lot more and my new set up of home working is not good for my posture so it’s vital that I stretch more often to avoid discomfort.

My real challenge is going to be my diet.

I normally walk a lot- I do 25,000 steps or so without trying a day.  Last week not only did I train a lot less but i also moved a lot less in general.  My step count was closer to 5,000 steps.

I’m therefore burning fewer calories.  So i know I’m going to need to eat less.  I can’t control not being able to go to the gym.  I can’t replicate my training at home.  I can’t move as much as normal with one opportunity to walk or run each day.  I can control how much I eat.

So I’ve tried to cut my calorie intake by around a fifth.  The first couple of days that was tough but I am moving less so I’m not lacking in energy from it.  This is the strategy I know that will stop me feeling like a potato by the end of lockdown because I’ve done much less than normal and eaten the same or even more .

So in a nutshell that’s my plan – it might evolve, maybe it will change but right now I have a strategy to help me feel like I’m drifting aimlessly or getting wound up because I cannot replicate my normal routine.

What’s your plan of action for the next few weeks?

 

 

Overwhelm

This year has been tough so far, I’ve been stressed an because of that I’ve found myself training less and eating chocolate like it’s the only food on the planet.  At first it was lack of time stopping me training.  I normally do most of my sessions on my lunch breaks at work but I’ve been busy and kept thinking if I just work through my lunch today I can catch up.  Of course I never did catch up but I have got myself completely out of the habit of training.  I normally eat chocolate quite frequently anyway, that’s fine, it fits into my diet perfectly well but as I’ve been more and more stressed I’ve turned to it more and more, it’s a comfort food thing I suppose.

The issue is eating well and training are anchors in my life.  When I am in my normal routine of a short training session most days and getting some good meals in me along side some chocolate I feel good, I feel capable of dealing with stress and juggling lots of roles.

So falling out of these habits because of stress kind of creates a never ending circle where I’m not doing the thing that prevents stress because I am stressed.  Not great, especially as I suffer from anxiety and so keeping track of the anchors that make you feel good is really important.  As an added stress on top of this is that because I’ve been eating more and training less I’ve also put on some weight, whilst I’m still not overweight or dramatically busier my clothes feel tighter and I feel less comfortable, this of course doesn’t help when you already don’t feel great.

None of this is uncommon, lots of people have these struggles.  They are perfectly valid, we lead high stress lives these days and it’s easy to end up a bit overwhelmed and a bit crap.

For me I always think it’s bonkers that you’re a fitness instructor, so you know exactly what you need to do to fix it, because you advise and support other people with this regularly, but that knowledge doesn’t always equate to making things easy.  I mean most of us know we need to burn more calories than we consume to lose weight, simple concept, not simple to do.  Most things in life are really quite simple at their core, it’s the application that is the thing that trips us up.

The thing is it’s ok to fall into a this cycle but you do need to be able to pull yourself back out of it too.

So how do you pull yourself out of a cycle where you are struggling with your training / nutrition?  Small changes, focusing on doing small simple things that you know will make you feel better over time.  I’m not talking bubble baths and face mask style self care, I’m talking doing the easy practical things that will make you feel more purposeful and on track.

My small things for this week are:

  • Track calories for the week to see where I’m actually at with food consumption
  • Drink 4 litres of water a day
  • Take my lunch break very day regardless and go down to the gym and train for 20 mins
  • Stretch every day
  • Get in at least one long walk this week

I’m not expecting at the end of the week for these things to have magically made me feel amazing, but I think that if I do these things I’ll feel better than I do right now and that is a step in the right direction.

 

Why Your Diet May Be Like The Gulf War

I remember one evening from my childhood, my nan and grandad were babysitting and we’d stayed up late to watch a Disney film (I want to say the Little Mermaid) and after the film the news came on.  The coverage was about the Gulf War.

I’d guess that meant this was around 1990 so I would have been around eight.  Eight year old me watched the news about this war (with a limited concept of what war meant that was basically confined to the two World Wars) and imagined bombs would soon start falling just like the Blitz.  What I vividly remember confusing me most however was what golf balls would have to do with a war.

This is what happens when you watch or listen to things where your understanding is limited and you put two and two together coming up with twelve.

It’s an extreme example, but in reality how many little misunderstandings over the years have crept into your brain and now exist, as ‘facts’ when they are actually not true at all.

Carbs are bad for you, eating carbs after 6pm will make you put on weight, fat is bad for you, lifting weights will make you bulky.

You think you understand how to eat and train to reach your goals, and on the whole you probably do, but perhaps there’s something in your head that you’ve just misunderstood, something that you are doing which you think is helping but is actually hindering your progress.

Often when having a chat with clients about their diet and setting some goals to work towards, the client will go away and make those changes but weeks later still be clinging onto an idea of something else they also should or shouldn’t be doing, largely because it has a mythical ‘fact’ status in their mind.

So perhaps they’ll have worked all week on hitting a calorie deficit and eating a certain amount of protein (agreed goals), but then even though they’ve done this be upset with themsleves because they don’t feel their macro split is exactly right (idea stuck in the head that precise macro splits are vitally important and not hitting that split means all the calorie deficit wins are pointless).

It takes time and effort to retrain yourself to not revert back to the misconceptions you have lived with for many years, but if you think about it my ridiculous misunderstanding of the word Gulf and Golf is no more ridiculous than some of the ideas we have developed over the years about how we should eat and move.

Slagging off Slimming World doesn’t help people

On Sunday I’ll be appearing on Ricky Long’s podcast talking about the fitness world in general.

One of the things we talk about is Slimming World, I myself did Slimming World before I became a fit pro and feel like I have a decent understanding of it from many angles because of this.

This wasn’t the focus of the podcast so I went into a lot less detail that I could have so I wanted to delve a bit deeper into a point here – it’s not enough as fitness professional to say what’s wrong with slimming clubs – we need to look at what we ourselves can do to help people who may otherwise have turned to such clubs

I did a podcast last year which you can listen to here, where I spoke about my own personal experience of Slimming World and what I think is wrong with the system.

Rather than rehashing that here I instead want to talk about something I’ve touched upon both here and in my upcoming podcast.

Slagging off Slimming World doesn’t help people.

When I needed help I went to Slimming World, I didn’t go to a PT – the idea intimidated me and didn’t feel accessible. All these perfectly nice people I know now would have intimidated me- me now would have intimidated me. I wouldn’t have gone to a fitness event or gym because I’d have felt like a fraud like I didn’t fit it.

Sliming clubs felt accessible for me. That’s why I took that route.

I eventually found training and with it learnt about nutrition and left Slimming World and am where I am now. BUT for that to happen took PTs and group ex instructors who didn’t criticise the route I’d chosen to take, they didn’t point out in distaste all the things that were wrong with Slimming World. They educated me within a framework that allowed me to see why Slimming World can work on a energy in / energy out basis and allowed me to come to the realisation that I didn’t need the club and see the faults for myself.

There weren’t Facebook groups back then for Slimming World but to be honest if there had been and some people had come into them and attacked what was, at the time, working for me I’d have probably defended Slimming World and I wouldn’t have felt like I wanted to go to those people for advice.

In short – as Fitness professionals I think we need to find a balance between exposing myths and educating people without making them feel stupid for trying to reach their goals. How I see this…

That PT thinks everything about Slimming World is stupid

I do Slimming World

So they must think I’m stupid

I’m not going to them to help

In attempting to help there’s a real danger we actually alienate without meaning to.

Now actually Slimming World can be successful in that it creates habits that lead to a calorie deficit. It’s not unsafe or faddy as diets go.

It doesn’t educate.

But you know what – I played rugby for a while, no idea of the rules I just ran at people.

Would I have been a better player if I knew more – yes. Did I still play? Yes.

I honestly don’t know how the best way to go about it is, but I feel like supporting and understanding peoples choices creates an environment of trust that might convince people away from Slimming World and into training and understanding basic nutrition more than simply laughing at the notion of syns, body magic and star weeks ever will.