I smoked cigarettes through my 20s. When I decided to quit, I started two years of the same cycle. I’d stop for a week, maybe three, and then I’d go out with my friends to a bar and bum a cigarette from a friend. One would turn into five, then I’d buy a pack. The next day, blanketed by a hangover and a sense of failure, I’d continue smoking. In retrospect, the nicotine addiction and social pressure were powerful forces. But even more powerful was my own All or Nothing mindset. I smoked the night before, and therefore I failed at being a Nonsmoker.
When did I kick the habit? I was finally able to stop smoking when I changed my mindset. I decided having a cigarette didn’t mean I was a smoker; it could just mean I had a fun night. It didn’t have to be who I was. I limited smoking to bumming one or two when I went out. Then it stopped being interesting or tasting good. I still have one or two cigarettes a year on a fun night, and mostly I’m amazed at the gross smell of my clothes the next morning.
In the five years I’ve supported Kenzai trainees, I’ve seen the All or Nothing mindset ruin more programs. It’s a bigger obstacle than business trips, family emergencies, and even injuries. To help you wrap your head around this, let’s do a little thought experiment. Let’s imagine a trainee named Al.
Al starts his program with a bang! Daily exercise, diet dialed in tight, and Al is active in the community. In week 3, Al stumbles over a couple of hurdles. Work is busy and he misses a couple of workouts. He doesn’t have time to prepare healthy meals, and ordering pizza, chomping burgers, and slurping wine is just easier. He admits to this on his journal. At Kenzai we share posts to chronicle our journey and keep ourselves accountable. But soon Al stops posting journals. By the time he answers my emails, he admits that he’s gone completely off program and asks me to drop him. He says he’ll start up again soon.
Bowing out of a program or putting your fitness goals on hold can be a healthy decision. But there are a few problems with this kind of gradual fade out. First, these situations often happen when other life stresses prevent us from performing our best. Facing stress is always better when we engage in the fitness trinity: nutritious food, regular exercise, and ample sleep. Second, fading out erodes confidence. It leaves a lingering feeling that you don’t have what it takes to make it successfully through this tough experience. This doubt will follow you into future fitness endeavors, and even in other aspects of your life.
For these reasons, finding a way through, even when life gets challenging, should be your new normal. Living healthy is neither binary nor complex. It’s about making a series of daily decisions and actions involving food, movement, sleep, and stress. This is why sticking with it matters; doing some of these things some of the time is far better than letting go altogether. As a reformed perfectionist, I’ve learned a few things that work to combat All or Nothing thinking.
At Kenzai, this means staying active on your journal. It’s our way of cultivating connections on the team. Which in turn brings results. Trainees who do this feel accountable to the team and can rely on teammates when the going gets tough. It also makes the training much more fun. If you’re not a member or don’t have a community of people invested in your fitness, pick up a pencil or pen and start writing. Jot down some notes about how your fitness adventures are going. Behavioral science has your back here. You’ll be able to track your successes, failures, triggers, and insights. They’ll lead you to feeling more, not less, in control of your fitness.
SHIFT YOUR POINT OF COMPARISON
Like many over the last two years, I faced enormous practical challenges and struggled with depression and anxiety. I couldn’t summon the strength to resist my go-to stress habits of alcohol and comfort food. I still finished five Kenzai programs! I started each program intending to fully embrace Kenzai habits, but when I fell short, I reminded myself that the comparison wasn’t to the perfect program I wanted. Instead, the comparison was to succumb completely to sedentarism and eating crap. I believe that moving every day, eating tons of fruits and vegetables, and staying involved with the community helped me make it through the toughest time of my life. Perfection wasn’t possible, but some healthy practices were essential and enough.
DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING
In the Disney cartoon Frozen 2 (I have young kids, indulge me), Princess Anna faces the greatest struggle of her life and belts out the song, “Do the Next Right Thing.” The idea is you don’t have to turn your life around, just focus on the next action, and do it right. In our case, it’s the next meal, the next workout, and the next opportunity to refuse a cocktail. In Atomic Habits, an excellent book about making and changing habits, author James Clear celebrates the Two Minute Rule (TMR). This involves taking a daunting task and boiling it down to the easiest, first, two-minute action. Procrastinating doing your taxes? Your TMR could be putting your income documents on your laptop. Don’t feel like doing cardio? Put on your shoes and grab your jump rope. The idea is that once you shift inertia into action, you’re likely to keep going.
USE TOOLS THAT WORK
I developed a tool to pull me back from inconsistent performance called the 1:3:5 Technique. I commit to getting tomorrow right. When I achieve that goal (fairly instant gratification), I set my sights on getting it right for three days. When I achieve three days, I set my goal to five. I’m still able to embrace my All Or Nothing mindset, but I reset the clock to now and stop regretting past behavior. I’ve modified this based on circumstance. If I’m really pressed for time this week, a ‘perfect’ workout might mean 20 minutes of hard exercise per day. Not 40 or 50 minutes.
DON'T GO IT ALONE
If you are struggling, reach out to your support system sooner rather than later. At Kenzai, after safety, our top goal is to get you across the finish line. We know that even an imperfect program will support your health. It’s our job and our passion to support you on that journey.
Above all. Keep this in mind. No one needs or expects you to be perfect. We can and should let go of this expectation of ourselves. Ditching this hard-line approach has worked for me!
Ed Center // Kenzai Assistant Trainer