I hate long, slow, marathon-style running. I prefer quick, exhausting sprints.
For exercise, you can get away with doing the kinds of training you prefer. Everything works to some degree or another, and I love short, intense workouts overlong, slow ones.
When it comes to the quest for health, however, a sprint mentality won’t do; you need a marathon mindset.
This is why no single meal, no single protein shake, no single training session, or a single “cheat day” makes or breaks you.
In my experience of doing things right sometimes, and then wrong sometimes, I’ve found that overall consistency in the long-term is far better than short-term perfection.
I’ve known people (and have done this, myself) who track every step, every calorie, every supplement, every hour of sleep, but become exhausted by the minutiae after a few weeks, and throw in the towel.
On the other hand, I’ve also known people to make great strides in their health goals, that strive for about 80% perfection, and are able to stay consistent year after year.
These people who make it don’t sweat it when they have a pleasure-only meal once or twice per week. If they happen to miss one workout, they’re not stressed about it.
There’s this weird thing that happens to most of us when we demand our own perfection. We discover that we can’t be perfect, and for some, it is discouraging to the point of giving up.
A former client of mine was consistently losing 2 pounds per week. She went on vacation and had some treats she wouldn’t normally have. When she returned home, she discovered that she still lost a tiny bit of weight, but not the 2 pounds she was used to.
It had a strangely condemning effect on her. She felt like all was lost because she marked on her calendar exactly when she expected to be at her goal weight, but realized she likely wouldn’t hit it. The delay in her goal was enough to nearly throw her off her entire regimen.
Goals are funny. They can be extremely helpful, and keep us on track. But they can also create a self-condemning quality if we don’t hit them.
I “talked her off the ledge”, and after a while, she got back on track. But I used it as an opportunity to help her re-assess how she sets and perceives her goals.
Many times, the time frame for our goals corresponds to an event: A wedding, a reunion, swimsuit weather, a doctor’s appointment, etc. It makes sense to calendarize your plans in those cases.
Make sure, though, that you don’t create unrealistic expectations for yourself. You’ve got to build in time for setbacks, holidays, getaways, and even slow weeks where your body just doesn’t respond. These things always happen.
For others, the time frame is completely arbitrary. The sooner the better, but it’s not absolutely crucial to achieving the goal on a particular date. As long as you stay motivated, it’s easier for you to have a setback, but not be discouraged by it.
There’s another group that does well on the Kaufmann Lifestyle. It’s the group that just plans on making it a lifestyle rather than a sprinted, calendarized effort. They do what they do, and they aren’t going to necessarily put a clock to it.
For them, the weight comes off when it comes off. The blood pressure adjusts no sooner or later than it’s supposed to. The goals are there, but the overall plan is to live the Kaufmann Lifestyle forever. No stop date. Maybe there’s an adjustment one day from Kaufmann 1 to Kaufmann 2, or to Maintenance. But as for the Lifestyle, it’ll just be a part of their lives from now, on.
Unless there’s a burning reason to have accomplished your goal on a particular date, why burden yourself with arbitrary pressures?
I know we’re in an era of “challenges” where we accept a challenge that everyone on social media is also doing: A push-up challenge, a 6-pack abs challenge, or something else that catches our eye. Enjoy those if they help you.
But most of those challenges are for some short-term, relatively meaningless goal. They’re not part of the long-term trajectory of pinnacle health. It doesn’t make them bad. But it can feed a nagging tendency many of us have where we do something hard for a very short time, then recoup from it in a way that takes us backward.
Constant “health sprints”, in other words.
The word “sustainable” is becoming white noise for a lot of us, but if there’s a challenge worth considering, maybe it’s to find a way to make your healthy lifestyle sustainable for the long haul.
This doesn’t take away from Quick Start plans that help you jump into new behaviors in a radical new way for a couple of weeks. Some strategies like fasting are necessarily short-term but can be marvelously helpful. But your long-term, sustainable activities can’t be all about going hard until you burn out, then taking a month off, then doing it all again for a few weeks, then recovering. That has no chance of working well.
What are you doing right now that you know in your heart you won’t be able to do forever? Are you eating micro calories? Are you beating yourself up training for a couple of hours each day? If you’re a professional athlete, that probably just comes with your career. But if you’re not a professional athlete, maybe it’s time to adjust what you’re doing so that you can see yourself doing it consistently this time next year.
It’s not what we do for short bursts of time out of the year. It’s what we do most of the time, week-in, and week-out that makes the biggest differences in our lives, (positively or negatively).