I hope you are reading this on the way to, or better, on the way home from, working out. That means exercising. Physical activity. Why? Well, according to a recent study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, less than 3% — less than 3% — of Americans meet the four basic qualifications of living a “healthy lifestyle.” What are the four?
- Moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week
- A diet score in the top 40 percent on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) a measure of diet quality that assesses conformance to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 
- A body fat percentage under 20 percent (for men) or 30 percent (for women)
- Not smoking
According to Statistic Brain Research Institute (WebMD in 2016), 49.6% of Americans exercise at least 30 minutes three days per week, 18.5% exercise one or two days per week, and 31.3% have not exercised at all within the last week that the study surveyed. The national average of Americans that exercise regularly is a mere 49.6%.
As if this is not sad, or bad, enough, a 2013 study from the Institute of Medicine , National Research Council, has found that in a ranking of affluent countries’ health, the United States came in last. Last. Dead last.
Need some more motivation to set and achieve realistic fitness-health goals? I’m going to offer you three tools that I’ve taught to personal fitness trainers to help them help their clients get moving, and stay moving. After all, my mantra is:
“Be physically active, not too much, mostly every day.”
The Imagery & Visualization Warm Up
Goals need to be more than a wish. Before you begin lacing up your sneakers, find a comfortable, quiet space, and visit the link below  and for about three or four minutes, mindfully go with the flow, see yourself being physically active, going to the gym, revving it up at a local boot camp or joining in whatever your team sport of choice may be. As you listen and imagine being physically active, also allow your mind to see any obstacles and imagine how you’d overcome them to accomplish your goal.
- What did you see, hear and feel?
- What were you saying to yourself?
- Did you feel satisfaction overcoming your obstacles and savor your success in achieving your goal(s)?
This warm-up is essential to following through with a positive, “can-do” mindset. Once you do it in your mind, doing it in real life is much easier.
How you talk with yourself, think of yourself and define yourself will drive you to the gym, or keep you on the couch playing on your iPad and munching crack cocaine disguised as chocolate drizzle popcorn. “It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” If you think you are not the type to exercise, unable to, don’t deserve to, you need to bring logical, more accurate and rational response counters along with your towel and water bottle with you when you hit the gym floor.
What you believe, think, and say to yourself about your ability to reach fitness goals is critically important for your success. If you erroneously believe that you “should” be able to reach a goal without a great deal of effort, or in an unreasonable timeframe, it’s unlikely you will be satisfied with your personal training.
Listen carefully for these types of internal messages that you may carry as obstacles:
- Feelings of inadequacy e.g. “I must do it perfectly well.”
- Predictions of failure e.g. “I must not fail.”
- Mind-reading what others in the gym may be thinking of you e.g. “I can tell they are laughing at me.”
Reset your thinking with rational responses:
- “Everyone starts somewhere, and there is no ‘right’ place where I ‘must’ be.”
- “Who says I shouldn’t fail and what’s so terrible if I do — I can always do it again.”
- “I am ‘mind-reading’ without evidence that anyone is thinking negatively about me. Am I the one who is thinking negatively about me?”
How about “I don’t have time to work out today.” The rational response counter is “I can always find time.” Or how about “I can’t make it to the gym today — I just don’t feel like it.” The rational response counter is “I know once I get to the gym, I’ll feel better. I can do it!”
SMARTER Goal Setting
Everyone who sets and achieves a goal, in any area of life but particularly in health and fitness, uses a very specific, unmatched tool called, SMARTER goal setting. This is the centerpiece of effective goal setting in visualization and rational self-talk training. You want to be sure the goals you are setting are:
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Why is this important to you (benefits to achieving the goal)?
- Who do you see involved in this goal (trainer, spouse, family, work)?
- Where will you achieve it (gym, outdoor boot camp, home exercises)?
- How will you measure progress?
- How will you accomplish this goal?
- Is this goal truly worthwhile to you?
- When will you accomplish this goal?
- Are you setting goals that you feel excited and enthusiastic about?
- Are your leaving some breathing room for adjusting your goals as you go along?
“I want to tone up, hit the gym and lose some weight”
SMARTER new style goal:
“I am going to improve my cardiovascular endurance by 10% and lose 15 pounds by following a specific exercise program four times each week, spending four days each week in the gym doing HIIT treadmill sessions for 30 minutes, measuring/weighing myself once per week, attending my nutrition/diet program daily.”
Be sure you are able to actively visualize the end result with detail and be certain – beyond any negative self-talk – that you will achieve the goal. Write down your goals in SMARTER language. Visualizing your completed goal(s) will help propel your motivation to achieve.
Three simple tools, easy to apply, visualizing success, talking yourself into success and being specific about the steps you need to take to actualize your success, will put you across your finish line in success.
Now lace up those sneakers and get moving – and stay moving, at least most days.