The fitness industry makes its money by selling us a fantasy. We read fitness articles by fitness models who get paid to workout and write articles about how perfect their lives are.
I don’t mean to categorize all fitness models as having perfect lives. Many of them work very hard and they have many of the trials and tribulations that everyday people have, but that’s not what we see. We get the idealized version of their lives because that’s what sells and that’s what we’re attracted to.
Except for a few very honest people in the industry, we rarely see them when they’re down. We get them when they’re doing yoga on mountain tops or doing high intensity interval training on a southern California beach.
When they’re done with their early morning workout, they come back and have a beautifully crafted kale shake or organic bulletproof coffee with their cover model girlfriend before recording themselves doing some other awesome thing like rock climbing or hitting another workout.
Is it really like that? Maybe, but it isn’t likely.
Even if they really do have these perfect lives, they aren’t doing their audience any favors. Anyone could be fit in the context of a perfect life. What people need to know is how to be fit even when things get difficult.
The reality is that you need to know how stay fit when you have bills to pay, a family to feed, and a real job to do.
The Fitness Fantasy Tragedy
Fitness models often portray their lives as being “perfect” for a big reason: it sells. The fitness industry realized long ago that it isn’t the effectiveness of a diet or exercise program that gets people to pull out their wallets. It’s the image. People buy into it because they want that life.
But the problem is that most people don’t have that life and never will because that life isn’t real. Even fitness models have bills to pay and stresses in their lives, and the life they are selling is even a fantasy for most of them.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming or striving to live that way, but the danger is in what happens when things get hard. The number one reason why most people quit working out is that they claim they don’t have time.
Without understanding how fitness programs are sold as a fantasy, this reason gets a bit absurd. Many exercises can be done anywhere without equipment, and some of the most effective workouts can be done in 10 to 20 minutes. Diet wise, everyone needs to eat, and salads are available almost anywhere these days. So why do people make the absurd claim that they don’t have time?
It’s because they don’t have time for the fantasy. They have an unreal image of everything they need to do to be fit and it seems almost overwhelming. The result is that they toss fitness completely out the window.
The tragedy in this is that when life gets hard, fitness is even more important. If you have a job or a career, you won’t be able to perform it to the best of your ability if your body is not in shape. If you have a family to support, you won’t be able to support them if you’re sick or dead. The truth is that if you an average person in the Western World, fitness is far more important for you than the bachelor fitness model who’s selling you the fitness fantasy.
So how do we avoid this tragedy? We begin by telling the truth.
Getting to the Truth
Unfortunately, most people know of Vice Admiral James Stockdale through his candidacy for Vice President on Ross Perot’s 1992 Presidential race. I write “unfortunately” because Stockdale was heavily parodied for his performance in that year’s Vice Presidential Debate. He was given notice that he’d be participating in the debate only one week prior to his appearance, and he was ill-prepared.
But James Stockdale was an American hero. For nearly eight years, he was the senior ranking US military POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. During this time, he organized resistance amongst the American captives despite being singled out for brutal torture during his time as a prisoner.
Author James Collins interviewed Stockdale about his strategy for survival for his business book Good to Great. He asked Stockdale what kept him alive. Stockdale responded:
“I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
Then Collins asked Stockdale about what type of people didn’t make it, and Stockdale quickly replied:
“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
This is known as the Stockdale Paradox and it is a valuable lesson for anyone attempting to overcome obstacles in his life. It also explains the danger of buying into the fitness fantasy: if you are going to get fit and stay fit, you need to use a program that works for your life as it is and be committed to that program, but you cannot follow a program constructed for the life you wish you had.
Let’s delve into what your reality probably looks like:
- You are probably not a professional athlete and you probably never will be.
- You probably don’t have two hours a day to spend in the gym.
- You probably do not have hundreds of dollars to spend every month on supplements.
- You probably will experience tragedy and hard times at some point in your life.
- You probably will have bad days at some point over the next month.
- You have people in your life who depend on you.
- If you follow the standard American diet and do not exercise, you are more likely to get heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
- If you get a chronic disease, you will probably fail the people who depend on you.
- You don’t have two hours to train, but you probably have twenty minutes.
- You probably can’t eat perfectly all the time, but you can make better choices about what you do eat.
- If you train during the twenty minutes you do have and you make better choices about what you eat, you’ll probably look better, feel better, and decrease your chances of getting a chronic disease.
These points might seem like I’m just spouting off common sense, but it’s important that we cover this because these items often get lost in the fantasy world the fitness industry constantly tries to sell you.
Additionally, these points may or may not describe your reality. In truth, your reality may be better or worse. You may actually have an hour a day when you can train, and you might have access to delicious organic food. You may also barely have enough money to buy a cup of coffee. Whatever your reality is, it is important that you confront it because that is the only way you’ll be able to develop a strategy that will work for you now.
Before you move onto the next section, I suggest that you take a moment and write down your own reality whatever it is. Describe the hard facts in your life on a piece of notebook paper. Be brutally honest with yourself. Until you do this you will not be able to come up with a viable solution to moving yourself forward because anything less than honesty will keep you in a fantasy that your life cannot currently sustain.
The Next Step: Build a Strategy that Works for You
I can’t create a strategy that is going to work for everyone through a single piece of written work, but I can tell you what I do to construct strategies for my clients. Many of them are extremely busy individuals who believe that they barely have time to breathe when they first contact me.
Some of them are also at the end of their rope trying to keep it all in balance. In almost every case, they don’t feel like the person they used to be and they’ve largely let the world force them into believing that they just don’t have the time or ability to get fit or healthy.
Here’s how I get them to see things differently laid out in four steps:
Tip 1: Write Out Your Weekly Schedule, Examine it, and Be Honest About the Time that You Do Have
You’re very busy. That’s established. But you probably have some days that are busier than others. You might have 20 free minutes one day, and several hours on others. The key is to establish what days have the most activity and what days have the least. What we’re looking for is three to four days per week where you can dedicate at least 20 minutes at any point in the day.
If you can’t find 20 minutes, determine where you have several 5 minute breaks throughout the day. The fitness fantasy has told you that you need to train for long periods at a time, but the science actually says something very different. You can actually get more benefits to your health by doing shorter exercise sessions throughout the day (1).
The point is that we can leverage this knowledge to get you a program that you can do, no matter how busy you are, whether we get you to do three or four hour long sessions a week or several five to ten minute sessions a day.
Tip 2: Remind Yourself Where You Can Train
When people say they don’t have time, they usually mean that they don’t have time to get to the gym. For some people, even quickly stopping by the gym on the way to or from work can be daunting if there’s heavy traffic during the commute.
There’s a few simple solutions to this:
- Find a gym that’s as close as possible to work or your home. Ideally there would be no need to travel the freeway or highway to get there. If price is an issue, see if you can get your employer to pay for it. It’s tax deductible for your employer. If that’s not realistic, see if the gym will offer a corporate discount for employees at your place of work.
- Build your own home gym. This can be done fairly inexpensively (see my chapter on creating your own home gym for under $250) and it will take away all excuses related to commuting.
- Why even join a gym when you can buy a kettlebell? This is probably the most important piece of exercise ever created. It’s eEven more important than the barbell in my opinion. You can do anything with it: presses, squats, deadlifts, swings, snatches, or you can carry it along on walks and runs. It even lends itself well to high intensity cardio sessions. You can also store it anywhere in your home or in your office. Get a removable doorway pullup bar and you literally do not need anything else to get a total body workout.
- Why even use anything when you can just use your body? If you know just a few bodyweight exercises you can get a great total body workout anywhere. You can do sets of pushups and squats in the office, or at home while you’re watching TV with your family. If you want to work on your cardio, you can hit the stairwell in your office building after work.
The point of all of this is to get you to understand that you don’t need a state of the art fitness center to get in shape. You just need willpower, determination, and a little bit of creative enginuity. I will focus on helping you to program your training schedule in another article, but for now, just think about all the possibilities you have for making time to get a workout in.
If you truly want to get it done, there is a way.
Tip 3: Think About What You Can Eat
You don’t have time to cook, and all you have around you is fast food? Again, we see the fitness fantasy creep in. You probably think that you need to live on chicken and broccoli to be fit. I will get more detailed about this in my chapter on nutrition, but I’ll clue you in on two things right now: chicken and broccoli isn’t as healthy as it sounds and there’s plenty of ways you can make better decisions about what you can eat throughout your day.
- Eggs literally take five minutes to make in the morning if you want to eat a healthy breakfast. Crack three eggs open into an oiled frying pan, let them cook sunny side up for 2 to 3 minutes, and then flip them over easy onto a plate of raw spinach or greens. Use the yolk as salad dressing and you got yourself a highly nutritious meal.
- You don’t need to eat breakfast if you don’t want to. Intermittent fasting can be really beneficial for men, and I will get into why in the nutrition chapter.
- You can take leftovers from last night’s dinner to work and eat them for lunch.
- If you have to eat at a fast food restaurant, get a salad or a protein style burger. Hey, even I’ve had to hit fast food restaurants when I was in a pinch. Just understand that, when you go to one, nobody is twisting your arm to order a supersized combo meal. Most places have healthy options these days, and when in doubt, get rid of the bun or just order the salad.
- You can make a bunch of healthy dinners that take little time to prepare using a crock pot or an instant pot. This involves sticking a few ingredients into a cooking insert in the morning, setting the machine on low for 8 to 10 hours, and coming home to a delicious and fully cooked meal.
Again, I will be getting into specific recipes and time saving techniques in the nutrition chapter, but I want you to go into the rest of this book knowing that you have both the time and the capability of eating healthy.
Tip 4: Just Avoid the Crap
Many of my clients fear the holidays because they are so scared of cheating on their diets during family get togethers. Here’s the deal, it’s not the pumpkin pie or the big Sunday dessert that you need to fear so much.
Rather, it’s the little bits of crap you put into your body everyday. Ask yourself how many times you reached into a candy jar in the last few weeks. How many times did you go to the vending machine or the convenience store to grab a soda or an energy drink? Did you go to a potluck at work or eat a bag of potato chips during your break?
All of these little things add up to everything that’s holding you back. Commit yourself to avoiding anything that comes out of a package or a quick open can for 10 days. See how much better you feel and how much weight you lose in that time. You can move yourself ten steps ahead and actually save a bunch of money just by avoiding these things.
Tip 5: Remind Yourself Why You’re Doing this Everyday
In the chapter on daily routines and morning rituals I discuss the power of gratitude. Every single day, I wake up and I write down three things I am grateful for. This normally involves something to do with my health and my family.
Regardless of what is at the center of your life, whether it be your family or your career, remind yourself every single day that you cannot do what you do for the best of your ability without your health and a well functioning body. When you come to understand that the bag of chips or the can of soda that you put into your body every single day may come between you and the things you live for, you may have an easier time avoiding them.
I will get more into the power of gratitude and mental fortitude later, but understand that knowing your purpose is going to be a huge part of getting yourself to your goals.
Train to Be You
As I wrote before, you probably never will be a professional athlete. I wrote that because it seems that so many programs seem to be patterned around a pro Athletes training schedule and these programs tend to be overwhelming.
You might not be training to win the Super Bowl or compete in the Olympics, and you really shouldn’t be training like you are because it will probably lead to burnout in the context of all the other things you have to do.
Instead, you have something much more important to train for. You need to train to be you, and more specifically, you need to be training to be the best version of you. That means getting it done however you can knowing that, if you don’t, you risk losing the very important things you think are keeping you from being fit in the first place.
Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in learning more about how you can build fitness into your life in a REALISTIC way, check out my free presentation on how you can start taking control of your life and fitness HERE.