If you’re active and knowledgeable about health and fitness, but still aren’t quite in shape like you think you could be, you’re probably just missing one or two crucial pieces. In this post I’ll tell you what those are — and share two key strategies for getting on track.
You try to eat well and exercise. You’re pretty smart and knowledgable about fitness. You know what you need to do. But you still don’t look—or feel—the way you want to.
Here’s the good news: this is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you’re probably a lot closer than you think. And, in this post, I’ll share two key strategies for getting on track.
“I work out a lot, but I still have this layer of fat around my stomach. Can you look at my photos? What do you think I should do?”
That was the last paragraph in a Facebook message I got recently, sent by a gentleman I met at a fitness seminar.
Now, being asked to look at physique photos and give exercise or nutrition advice may seem weird, but it actually happens a lot. And not just to me, but to all of our coaches.
These kinds of requests generally come from people who are knowledgeable about fitness. Some of them are fitness pros. Some have a little experience, some have a lot. Regardless, they are facing one or two uncomfortable things:
- They’re not being as consistent with exercise and eating as they’d like and are having a hard time sticking to things.
- They’re not getting the results they should based on how much they know about working out and eating healthy.
As I read his note, I realized he shared a lot of similarities with the men and women we help here at Precision Nutrition.
- He admitted that when things get busy, it’s hard for him to be consistent. He frequently gets off track with his eating and he skips his workouts.
- He told me he had tried a bunch of different workout programs and diets and knew what to do. But he was missing something important, something that could help make a difference.
- He was a bit frustrated and embarrassed. He felt like he should have a better body to show for his knowledge and hard work. He was reaching out to me for a solution that could turn everything around.
And as it turned out, I knew exactly what he needed.
Why I knew what he needed
Now before I tell you what I told him, let me share why I had the solution to his problem.
Most people who visit Precision Nutrition don’t know this, but a good number of our clients aren’t complete beginners. Indeed, we have plenty of “intermediate” or “advanced” folks who come to us for help.
Of course, we still love—and take great care of—our beginner clients. However, many of our clients:
Already read articles on working out and nutrition. They exercise. They eat healthy, or at least try to. Most are the go-to “fitness expert” for their family and friends. Some (like Toni or Ron) are even personal trainers.
Are people who should be in great shape. And maybe at one point, they were in great shape, but now they’re having a tough time. Men (like Bryan) and women (like Laurie) who’ve become frustrated with a body that’s not as lean, strong, fit or healthy as they know it could be.
And because we’ve worked with thousands of experienced clients just like them—helping them get healthier and into the best shape of their lives—I knew exactly what he was missing.
The “missing link” to having your best body
Once you reach a certain level of knowledge and experience, the missing link is no longer a new exercise program, the perfect nutrition plan, or a new supplement to try.
The one thing you’re missing is this: being accountable—to someone or something—for your workouts and nutrition.
“Accountability is the acknowledgment of responsibility for your actions with the obligation to report, explain, and be responsible for the resulting consequences.”
In other words, accountability keeps you consistent because you have to report back what you’re doing—or not doing—in the gym and in the kitchen to someone else.
In fact, accountability is more important than personal motivation for this simple reason:
But if we have someone who’s checking up on us to see how things are going, we’ll get our butt in gear. Even if we don’t feel motivated in the moment.
We actually do the exercise—and eat the food—needed to look and feel great. And we do it over and over again, even when the going gets tough.
That’s why you can know exactly what to do. And you can even do it—exercise, eat good food, get eight hours of sleep—for short bursts. But you can still end up struggling.
Simply put: if you can’t be consistent, you can’t make progress.
And that’s why accountability—not the perfect exercise or eating program—is the thing that turns everything around. (Heck, maybe it can turn things around for you.)
So, the big question? How do you get accountability?
Here are two strategies you can use immediately.
Accountability strategy #1:
Commit to more… and/or less.
To be consistent, you need to commit to more, and/or less. Let me explain what I mean.
We all make half-hearted promises to ourselves, only to get frustrated and break them soon after. And that’s fine (and understandable). But for a different result, we need a different sort of commitment.
Option 1: Commit to more.
The idea is to commit to something bigger than yourself. Bonus points if you can make it fun.
One of the easiest ways is to set up a contest with friends. Who can go the longest without skipping an exercise day? Who can cook the most meals at home instead of eating out?
Notice that it’s not about achievement (who lost the most weight, etc.). It’s about doing.
Focus on and reward yourself for what you do (going to the gym, cooking a meal), not what you achieve, at least at first. Because that’s what you have immediate control over.
What do you think you can accomplish with just one month of consistent workouts and healthy eating? What about one year?
Option 2: Commit to less.
This is the tough one. Our natural tendency is to overpromise and underdeliver, especially to ourselves. One of the easiest (and most counter-intuitive) ways to stay consistent is to do the opposite.
Underpromise and overdeliver. Consider every promise you’re about to make to yourself a rough, first draft.
Before truly committing, ask yourself, “On a scale of 1-10, how confident am I that I could do this every day for the next 30 days?”
If your gut reaction is anything other than “9” or “10”, find a way to make that promise smaller or easier.
E.g., turn “I’ll cut out sugar every day” into:
- “I’ll stop eating each meal when I’m 80% full.”
Eat what you’re already eating, just slightly less.
- “I’ll eat one (more) home-made meal a day.”
Focus on mindfully creating a single meal.
- “I’ll eat one big salad a day.”
Focus on eating one more well-chosen meal, even if you have to buy it. Even fast food chains have salads with chicken these days.
And turn “I’ll go to the gym every morning at 6AM” into:
- “I’ll do 40 air squats at home, right after waking up.”
Do something with no travel or equipment required.
- “I’ll get two solid workouts in per week, scheduled in my calendar, and go from there.”
Reduce the commitment to something you can always stick to; do more only if you can, making it entirely optional.
- “I’ll park further away from work / school and walk the rest of the way.”
Those are just examples, of course. You’ll find one that works for you.
Keep reducing the commitment until it feels too easy for you. Until you can answer “9” or “10” without even thinking about it. Those are the things that you can actually do consistently.
If you can do more on any particular day, then great, go for it. But don’t commit to it. Your daily accomplishments can be big, but keep your commitments relatively small. This way, you turn predictable disappointment into daily, pleasant surprise.
Often this is both a humbling and liberating experience for people, especially people who are well educated about health and fitness.
Humbling, because we often kid ourselves into thinking we can do much more than we actually can. (And that’s both normal and entirely okay.)
Liberating, because when we realize that the only way to make a big change is to make a series of small ones like these, “consistency” and all that it brings finally become possible.
The question most people have is here, though, is: will that actually work? Will such small changes actually do anything?
The answer is yes, when done in sequence. Once the first one is done, the second one is even easier, and so on. It’s amazing how powerful “making things easier” actually is.
In fact, it’s exactly how we coach our own clients. Which leads us to the third option.
Option 3: Commit to both more and less.
Commit to something big and external (like the friendly bet with your friends or co-workers).
And while doing so, commit to tackling only one part of that larger commitment at a time. Reduce the size of each mini-commitment until you feel almost 100% confident you can actually do it for 30 days.
In our coaching, we combine both methods: the big, group commitment and the smaller, personal, daily commitment.
For the big commitment, we give away $250,000 in cash prizes each year to our best clients. Not just the ones who had the best results, mind you—also the ones who best stuck with the small, daily commitments.
That’s right, we break down the process of getting in the best shape of your life into small commitments. Small enough for each client to do them.
Then we string those together for 12 months. You can view the results here on our site; suffice it to say, they’re compelling.
So change the way you commit. Go big, and go small. The results will pleasantly surprise you.
Accountability Strategy #2:
Get some help from at least one other person.
Let me tell you a quick personal story.
There was a time, a few months ago, when I started skipping one or two workouts each week. Why? Because I was “busy.”
The exercise didn’t matter much in the context of one week—it’s not like I was getting out of shape every time I skipped one. But they added up. Within a month I’d missed nearly half of my gym time. Not good.
And it was showing in the mirror. I looked a little less “in-shape” than I would have liked. Plus I just felt crappy and a little guilty.
Obviously my problem wasn’t a program one. No special workout routine, new diet plan, or magical supplement could help.
What I had was an accountability problem. No one was checking to see if I was doing my workouts. And because of that, I was slacking.
So the next day I called a personal trainer friend and asked if he had any openings.
Even though I know how to work out and eat healthy, I asked if he would write my workouts and train me at his gym a couple times per week.
I made myself accountable to him.
Of course I could still skip my workouts if I wanted to. But that would involve actually calling and canceling an appointment with him.
Not surprisingly, ever since I became accountable to my friend, I haven’t missed a single workout. And I feel incredible.
What can you learn from this?
First, know that we all sometimes struggle with staying in shape. (Yes, even fitness professionals like me.) It’s no big deal and doesn’t mean you’re deficient in any way. It just means you’re human.
Second, know that if you’re struggling to get in shape the best thing you can do is hire someone to keep you accountable. It could be a coach you pay money to or a friend who will meet you at the gym.
Do 2 things:
Commit differently, become accountable.
In the end, the message I wanted to communicate to the guy on Facebook was this:
“It’s completely possible to know exactly what you’re doing… but still struggle to improve your body. And that’s totally OK. In fact, it happens to a lot of people and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
But there’s a simple fix, and it has nothing to do with a new workout or diet plan. All you have to do is commit a little differently and make yourself accountable to at least one other person.”
So if you’re reading this and you’ve struggled with fitness in the past, or are struggling with it right now, I encourage you to do the same: change the way you commit and become accountable to someone else.
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.
If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.