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The “pause-button mentality”

‘Getting a fresh start’ isn’t the magic bullet you thought it’d be.

“I’ll resume healthy eating after my holiday… once the baby is born… after Dad gets out of the hospital… January 1… Monday.” While this kind of “pause-button mentality” seems reasonable, it could be ruining your health and fitness. Here’s why, and what to do about it.

Why we don’t suggest a ‘pause’ feature

After all, what’s the harm in taking a break from a nutrition and fitness plan when we’re:

  • Leaving for a holiday
  • Completely swamped at work
  • Pregnant, or just given birth
  • Injured, or
  • Caring for a sick family member

We often see the thought process boiling down to:

If I miss some workouts, eat the wrong things, skip the homework… I fail.

Aren’t I more likely to succeed if I take a mini-break, just until I have the time to do it right?

‘Getting a fresh start’ isn’t the magic bullet you thought it’d be.

We understand it’s normal — even commendable — to want to do your best. To consider taking time to regroup and then resume (or start over) when life feels easier.

At the same time, this completely natural and well-meaning impulse is one of the fastest, surest, most reliable ways to sabotage your plans for improved nutrition, health, and fitness.

Here’s why — and what to do instead.

A fresh start after you lose your way is a really comforting thought.

That’s why New Year’s resolutions are so popular, especially following the indulgence-fueled Christmas period.

Give me that cheesecake. I’ll pick my diet back up on Monday!

In fact, we’ve learned through our experience that the idea of a do-over is so alluring you don’t even need a mess-up for the pause-button mentality to take over.

How often have you said to yourself…

If only you’d let me start over, I’d really nail it this time!

Here’s the problem: The pause-button mentality only builds the skill of pausing.

Whether it’s tomorrow, Monday, next week, or even next year, hitting that imaginary pause button gives you some sense of relief.

It allows you a little respite from what can be a really tough slog.

(And the middle is always a tough slog, it doesn’t matter what kind of project you’re working on.)

This perceived relief is compounded by the illusion that if we “start fresh” later we can find the magical “right time” to begin.

We get it.

It can feel strange to try to improve your eating and exercise habits while you’re in the midst of chronic stress / looking for a job / starting a new job / going on holiday / caring for ageing parents / raising small children.

That’s probably why there are so many 21-day this and 90-day that. What adult has more than 90 days to go after their fitness goals with an all-out effort?

But what do these intense fitness sprints teach you?

The skill of getting fit within a very short (and completely non-representative) period of your life.

What don’t they teach you?

The skill of getting fit (or staying fit) in the midst of a normal, complicated, “how it really is” sort of life.

This is why the yo-yo diet thing has become such a phenomenon.

It’s not about willpower. It’s about skills.

In most fitness scenarios, you learn how to get fit under weird, tightly-controlled, white-knuckle life situations.

You build that one, solitary, non-transferable skill — to slam the pedal to the floor, drive the needle into the red, and speed down the road for a little while, burning the rubber off your tires until you (quickly) run out of fuel and burn out.

What you don’t build is the ability to get fit under real-life conditions.

That’s why it doesn’t stick. Not because you suck.

But because the natural and predictable consequence of having a limited skill set is short-term progress followed immediately by long-term frustration.

What’s going to be different next time?

In most fitness scenarios, you learn how to get fit under weird, tightly-controlled, white-knuckle life situations.

You build that one, solitary, non-transferable skill — to slam the pedal to the floor, drive the needle into the red, and speed down the road for a little while, burning the rubber off your tires until you (quickly) run out of fuel and burn out.

What you don’t build is the ability to get fit under real-life conditions.

I remember talking to a friend who swore that his low-carb diet plus daily running was the secret to staying in shape.

I had to follow up with a painful question: “Well, why aren’t you actually in shape?”

After a long pause: “Uhh, I’ve had a hard time sticking with it. We just had our second child. We’ve just come off our summer holiday. I just switched jobs.” He trailed off…

“But, once everything settles down, I’ll get back on track and get in shape again! I guess I’m just on a little break.”

This story illustrates the point perfectly.

Here’s someone who’s built his fitness on a house of cards. He knows only one thing: How to get in shape by following a very challenging programme when the conditions are perfect.

And whenever life isn’t perfect, which is most of the time, he hits the pause button. He waits for a better time. (All the while losing the health and fitness he previously worked so hard for.)

That’s why, when our clients ask to press pause, we usually ask them:

“What will be different when you come back?”

Nine times out of 10, the honest answer is nothing. Nothing will be different.

 

Let’s just accept that life has no pause button.

The key lesson here is that, like it or not, the game of life keeps going.

There is no break.

There’s never going to be a moment when things are magically easier.

You can’t escape work, personal, and family demands. Nor can you escape the need for health and fitness in your life.

Here’s a thought experiment:

What if you tried to hit pause in other areas of your life?

Imagine you’re up for a big promotion at work. For the next two weeks, all you want to do is focus on mastering an upcoming presentation and winning over your boss.

Trouble is, you’ve got two young children at home who tend to grasp, koala-like, onto your legs and demand your full attention.

Darling, you say to your wife, I’m just gonna press pause on being a parent for now. I’ll be staying at a hotel. Don’t contact me.

I don’t think that would go well in many families.

You can’t really press pause — and you definitely can’t hit reset — on being a parent. (You’ve thought about it, though. I know you have.)

Just like you can’t stop showing up for work and expect not to get fired. Or “take a break” from being married and not wind up divorced.

Generally, when it comes to life, we know we’re not always going to be on our A Game. Sometimes we’re superstars. Most of the time we just do our best.

We muddle through. We keep going.

So why do we expect it to be any different with fitness?

The point is to keep going. Sometimes awkwardly, sometimes incompetently, sometimes downright half-assed. But to keep going nonetheless.

As I often teach our new clients:

The “all or nothing” mentality rarely gets us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”.

That’s when I propose a new mantra:

“Always something”.

 

Instead of pressing pause, adjust the dial.

Nowadays I like to think of my fitness and nutrition efforts as a dial.

There are times when I want to dial my efforts up, and times when I want to dial them down. But I never want to turn the dial off completely.

Here’s how this plays out in the context of my life.

Sometimes, say when I’m training for a particular goal, my fitness dial might be tuned to 9 or 10 out of 10.

Channel 10 means I work out every day. Every meal is planned and carefully considered. I think a lot about fitness. And not much about anything else.

These days, the dial rarely goes past 4 or 5. I work out, maybe, three days a week. And most of my meals are “good enough”.

(For the record, I’m totally cool with that. There is no guilt about having my dial set a little lower. What’s most important is that the dial is still set to “on”.)

The important lesson: There’s a big difference between tuning your dial to 3, 2, or even a 1, and turning the whole thing off.

And when you realise how doable –– and effective –– channels 3 and 2 and 1 can be, you see that there’s never a good reason to hit “pause”.

 

I get it. It’s easy to discount the lower channels. Especially when you’ve done more in the past. But remember your new mantra…

“Always something.”

 

“Fitness in the context of real human life”

 

It’s what I think we’re the best at: Helping clients be healthy and fit in the context of their real lives.

Not while pretending to be someone they’re not. Not by signing up for a 12-week boot camp with daily workouts and restrictive diets.

But by living their own lives and practicing “always something”.

In my opinion, pressing pause is buying into an imaginary ideal: a “perfect” time when everything will fall into place; a beautiful, linear trajectory from total nothing to apex awesomeness:

Asking for a restart because you don’t want to mess that line up is deluding yourself that somehow, next time will be easier. Next time will be perfect. No interruptions, no distractions… no… life.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect time.

We may have magical moments, of course. Short periods of time when things seem to “click” and come together.

But then the dog poops on the rug. Or the kid throws up on the couch. Or both… and then one or the other tracks it all through the house.

You keep pressing pause, and your progress looks like this.

What to do next.

Fitness in the context of real human life is just like the rest of life.

We’re all just doing the best we can in challenging, complicated circumstances. We are all living messy, imperfect lives. We are all human.

If we can just keep moving forward, no matter what happens, no pause buttons, no do-overs, we win the game.

Here are a few strategies for getting out of the pause-button mentality and into a more realistic, effective, sustainable way of thinking.


1: Try the Dial Method

Think of your fitness like a dial that goes from 1 – 10.

If you were to dial it up to “10”…

  • What would your workouts look like?
  • What would your nutrition look like?
  • What other actions/habits would you practice in that scenario?

If you were to dial it down to “1”…

  • What would your workouts look like?
  • What would your nutrition look like?
  • What other actions/habits would you practice in that scenario?

Giving thought to your life right now, where is your dial set?

Would you like to make any adjustments?

Could you move the dial up a channel, or even half a channel?

If so, what would that look like?

On the other hand…

Should you move the dial down a channel so you can stick with health and fitness even during a difficult time?


2: Aim for a little better.

An all-or-nothing approach usually doesn’t get us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”.

You know what actually works?

Small improvements done consistently over time work — we have the proof in our clients.

You might be trying to make a meal out of petrol station food, or airplane food. You might be spending hours awake with a newborn in the middle of the night, or stuck in yet another full-day meeting.

These aren’t ideal scenarios, but they’re not necessarily hopeless either.

Look around. Get creative. See if you can find some small—maybe minuscule—improvements.


3: Anticipate, strategise and plan.

Since we already know that stuff is going to go wrong, the best thing we can do is anticipate and make plans for how to deal when they do.

A simple way to do this is by answering two questions:

  1. What’s likely to get in the way of what I hope to accomplish?
  2. What is something I can do today to help me keep going when I face those obstacles?

For some people, that might be a Sunday ritual where they prep food for the week so they won’t be scrambling for healthy meals on busy weeknights. 

Don’t be surprised and dismayed when things go haywire. They will at some point. Just arm yourself with the best tools and strategies so you can stay in the game when you’re thrown a curveball.


IF YOU’RE NEEDING SOME HELP…


Get in the best shape of your life—and stay that way for good.

You tell us what you want to do. We’ll help you do it. First, your coach will learn about your lifestyle, needs, and specific goals. Then, over the course of the programme, we’ll give you everything you need to look, feel, and perform better than you thought possible.

If you’d like to learn more about what we do and how we can help, consider booking a FREE Discovery Call on Nutrition Coaching. 

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