One Month Later

January has been a very interesting month!

I've been inspired to see friends, family and colleagues adopt some of the things I shared and begin to start their own amazing year.

The most popular habits include drinking more water, tracking your food (whether using My Fitness Pal or just writing it down) and getting more exercise by slightly changing your routine (e.g. walking some of the journey to work, or walking to the shops instead of jumping in the car) but a number of people embarked on Dry January. All these small changes add up and begin to have a big effect. Several people have already lost their first 5kg or more. And the action they're taking and the result they're getting brings more and more motivation. It really is a virtuous circle. 

Of course, some people started by taking on too much and quickly found themselves feeling somewhat overwhelmed. For them the remedy was simple. Just focus on successfully gaining one new habit. Once you've done that, you can begin to adopt other habits. And guess what? It works. One person who has never managed to stick at anything new for long has now spent a month doing something different. And they're getting results too!

The most important thing to say is this: your amazing year doesn't have to start on January 1st.

Indeed, for many people that's the worst day to start. It can start today. The key thing is to find a goal that will keep you engaged for a year and commit to reaching it. 

I was really humbled to receive feedback from people who read the blog posts over Christmas. Recognising the value of the information (and acknowledging the difficulty in sifting through a series of blog posts), I created an e-book. Much to my delight, despite it being free of charge, some of you bought it. You have no idea how good that feels. Thank you.

If you want to begin your amazing year, why not read the book? It should give you everything you need to get started and you can read on your Kindle, Phone or Tablet.

Finally, please do get in touch and let me know how you're getting on - it's great to read your stories and celebrate your achievements.

A few of you have asked what I'm up to now I've lost all that weight. All will be revealed in the next blog post. Stay tuned!

Postscript: An Amazing Year has now become a "thing"

My original intent was to write a series of emails to send to my friends and family over Christmas. sharing the stuff I learned during my amazing year.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I built a website. And that enabled people from further afield to see the blog posts and give me feedback. It turns out that my story is one that resonates with a lot of you. Maybe it's because I'm just an ordinary guy who kept plugging away at a goal for a year. Maybe it's because many of you have tried to do this and not got so far.

People are now asking how I can help them have an amazing year.

You have no idea how humbling that is. And exciting!

As it happens, I have quite a lot of skills around coaching, so after a day of brainstorming yesterday, I've decided to see how I can use these skills to help as many people as possible. So you can bet I'll be following the process I outlined for setting goals and turning them into actions.

As I said before, you never know who you're inspiring. And now you are all inspiring me in return.

Isn't that amazing?

Watch this space. Sign up to the email list if you haven't already.

And maybe you'd consider 'liking' the new Facebook page for An Amazing Year.

 

The End (of the Beginning)

For many of us, today is the first day back at work after the Christmas holiday. Invariably it's going to be a busy few days as you catch up and settle into your normal routine. 

I hope that I’ve managed to pass on some of the things I learned. I also hope that you’re feeling more confident about making this year an amazing year for you. Keep focussed on the early stages of reaching these goals. As you begin to see progress towards your milestones, that should keep you on track.

If you find yourself getting demotivated, go back to the 'why' and ask yourself if you're really ready to give up. And if you find the 'hows' aren't getting you towards your goal, find some more. You always have options. Just as a yacht can't sail in a straight line, so you'll need to zig zag a bit. But keep moving forward.

In writing these posts I tried to keep them short. That invariably means I missed stuff out, oversimplified or didn't take into account all the possible scenarios. So I'll continue to blog until I run out of things to say - if you have any subjects you'd like to know more about, let me know. If I don't know the answer, I'll try to find out.

Finally, the adage ‘if you want to learn, teach’ has never been more true. One of the habits that I wanted to develop was to write more often, and this Christmas has been a perfect opportunity for that.

So thank you for reading, and for your feedback and encouragement. Let me know how you get on!

If you're inspired to have your own amazing year, go to this page and fill out the form and share your goal with me:

If I can help you, I will!

Getting Started (the day after)

So how was it? Did you take action? Or still trying to work up the enthusiasm?

If you took action, how are you feeling? If nothing else, hopefully the sense of achievement feels good. Do this for the next week and you’ll begin to see some changes. Keep doing this during the year and you’ll see massive changes. At the very least, take action today to start building your motivation.

If you didn’t take action, is there anything else you need to know? Why not go back over the posts and then Tweet or email me and let me know what else I can do - I would love to help you have an amazing year too.

Get Started on your Amazing Year

If you have your ‘why’, your goal(s), know how to form habits and take action, how you might be helped or hindered by yourself or others, and have a strategy for managing that, and know how to eat and exercise you have EVERYTHING you need to begin reach your goal. Now.

Yes, it’s probably going to be very hard work.

Yes, you will suffer setbacks.

Yes, you may have to change your goals or timescales.

But if you commit to taking regular action, maintaining an honest feedback loop and being accountable to yourself you really can have an amazing year, like I did. 

There's one more question you need to ask yourself. 

What am I prepared to do to reach my goal?

Your answer to this will determine how well you do - be honest with yourself.

Remember - motivation comes from taking action. So get out there and put this knowledge and desire into action today. Do something. Anything. But do it.

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a good NYE (if you’re the NYE type) or that you managed to get an early night (if you’re not).

Either way, welcome to 2016.

As well as looking forward, it’s a great time to look back.

Sitting on the beach on Jan 1st 2015:

  • I had very low self-esteem about my body. Now I feel great about my body.
  • I wore 36” waist jeans. Now I wear a 27” waist.
  • I had man boobs. Now I have pecs.
  • I had an obese level of body fat. Now I have the body fat of an athlete.
  • I hadn’t ever seen my six pack. Not even as a kid. Now I can see it.
  • I weighed 95kg. Now I weigh 68.6kg.
  • I couldn’t easily lift a 20kg Olympic bar. Now I can lift 110kg off the floor.
  • My average resting heart rate first thing in the morning was 98. Now it’s 64.
  • I had really bad shoulder mobility. Now I can move my shoulders freely, I don’t feel shoulder pain and I have much better awareness of my posture.
  • I had really bad ankle mobility. Now I don’t.
  • I had a persistent cough which was thought to be weight related. Now I don’t, and this has had such an impact on my life.
  • I couldn’t sing long phrases without grabbing a breath. Now I can.
  • I couldn’t do a pull-up. Now I can do several in a row, several times.
  • I rarely slept very well, and snored heavily. Now I sleep well and I’m told I don’t snore much at all.
  • I was feeling pretty old and worn-out. Now I’m in the best shape of my life.
  • And I feel great.

And as much as these things are remarkable, I'm not sharing this to brag. I'm hoping that the things that were true for me in January 2015 might be things that you can relate to, and that by showing what I achieved, I can inspire you to take action to achieve it too.

image.jpg

The really incredible thing is that I had no idea if I could do it. And I wasn’t expecting to finish the year writing this series of posts, paying it forward by sharing what I learned, fuelled by the realisation that you never know who you're inspiring.

So there’s just one thing for you think about today:

What do you want your list of achievements to look like in a year’s time? If you’ve not yet committed to your goals, and made an action list, now is the time to sort it out. Write them down, put them somewhere prominent and be prepared to do whatever it takes to make 2016 an amazing year for you.

New Year's Eve

I was never one for New Year’s Eve parties, telling myself I'd prefer to stay at home so I could start the New Year with a clear head. That said, last year I was lucky enough to be away on holiday so it would have been silly to stay in the hotel room. 

Watching the fireworks, and seeing my face in the obligatory selfie postcard that I sent to friends and family, I knew that I needed to do something about my weight and fitness. 

Massive change was needed.  I didn't know how exactly how long it would take but knew that it would be at least a year. The more I delayed, the lower the chances of my success. And there would come a time when it simply wasn't possible to change - a point of no return.

So I ought to get on with sorting it out. Urgently.

I’m hoping that all the posts so far have helped you identify the thing you want to change, and get a good idea about how you might actually achieve it.

What’s going to propel you into action?

Enjoy your New Year's Eve.

If you want it, your amazing year starts tomorrow.

Alcohol

Those of you that know me, will know that I’ve been known to enjoy a drink or two. During the 3 month transformation programme I mentioned yesterday one of the ground rules was ‘no drinking’. Fortunately, a new book - “This Naked Mind” had just been published so I thought I’d give it a read. I got through it in just a few sittings and it did open my eyes to a number of things. Helped by the book I managed to keep the pledge for the full 12 weeks, despite some strong temptation, including a family wedding, a family big birthday and the office Christmas party. I found it quite easy to say ‘oh, I’m not drinking until mid December’ and that was that.

After the transformation programme was over, I had a celebratory drink. And the roughest night’s sleep for 3 months. At that point I realised that it’s very easy to become acclimatised to the effects of alcohol. The other thing I noticed is that by not having a drink I can get so much more done.

If you’re interested in experiencing a period of time without alcohol, then you could consider taking part in the Cancer Research Dryathlon and abstaining for January.

If you want to continue drinking there are some informed choices you could make. As well as calories from alcohol (7kcal per gram), there are also the calories from carbs/sugar. Spirits with slimline mixers will contain fewer calories than, for example, a glass of wine or a pint of beer. And you’ll still get the effect of the booze.

If nothing else, you could try spacing out drinks with water or diet soft drinks, making a rule about not drinking on consecutive days etc.

As a postscript, I had a few drinks on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but didn’t really enjoy the feeling afterwards, and once again had a lousy sleep. I’d have never thought I'd be writing that, until I spent 3 months sober. In the spirit of ‘trying stuff to see what works for you’, why not explore your options around drinking? If nothing else, it’ll help you achieve your goal and possibly save you a fortune.

From Goals into Actions

A few days ago, I outlined a process that would help with setting and achieving your goals. I hope that since then you’ve been thinking about what the goal is, why it’s important to you and who can help you achieve that goal. It’s now time to think about the ‘how’ and use that to build your action plan.

To use an example, let’s say that one of your ‘whos’ was Mum, and you identified two ‘hows’ that could be crucial to your success

Mum

  • help: cheer me on

  • hinder: expect me to eat a big roast dinner every week

The next step of this exercise is to simply list a few ways in which you could encourage the ‘helps’ and prevent (or minimise) the ‘hinders’.

So, for ‘cheer me on’, you could

  • give her a regular progress report

  • tell her how you’re feeling on the more difficult days

  • gamify it, so she rewards your progress

And for ‘expect me to eat a big roast dinner every week’ you could

  • negotiate having a big roast dinner every month

  • negotiate having smaller portions

  • negotiate having a different kind of dinner

  • take her out for dinner or cook for her, so you can get the food you need as well as the food she wants

  • find other ways for her to satisfy her urge to feed, such as encouraging her to buy you healthy snacks

Of these, you choose just one or two things, add them to your todo list and take action.

Now repeat this process for each of the people you identified, and each of the ‘helps’ or ‘hinders’.

By the end of it, you should have a list of concrete things you can do to ensure your success.

One friend asked me about how to cope with irregular working hours, reduced sleep and emotional eating. You can use this technique to map this out:

Boss

  • hinder: keep me at work after hours

    • have a supply of healthy snacks in my drawer at work

    • negotiate a later start the following morning so I can go to the gym

    • learn how to smooth out the bumps in my diet so I hit my weekly targets

Me

  • hinder: eat unhealthy snacks late at night

    • have healthy snacks at home

    • try to balance my food out during the day so I’m not hungry at night

    • agree that sometimes I can have unhealthy snacks as long as they fit into my overall eating plan for the week

  • hinder: not get enough sleep

    • investigate healthy sleep habits

    • do some experiments with caffeine timing

    • investigate biphasic sleep

Don’t forget, one of the most important ‘whos’ will be you. Make sure you understand all the ways in which you can help or hinder your progress and map out actions to take.

If you’ve not got started with the ‘whos’ yet, here is a starting list of roles

  • Parents

  • Grandparents

  • Siblings

  • Children

  • Neighbours

  • Friends

  • Colleagues

  • Managers

  • Gym mates

  • Members of Community Groups

  • Family Doctor

  • Customers

  • Suppliers

  • Personal Trainer

  • Nutrition Coach

As well as the role, be sure to identify the person - Bob Smith, not ‘Manager’ as that’ll help you to think about them.

If you do this exercise you will build a list of actions that will help you build good habits and avoid derailing when things get tough.

 

Everything I learned about Exercise

You could choose to create all of your calorie gap through diet. But if you burn some calories through increased exercise, you don’t need to restrict your food intake so much. The TDEE calculation (see yesterday’s post) takes that into account.

Chances are that if you’re overweight you’re also unfit. I was. Very. So I thought I might as well try and improve my fitness at the same time. If nothing else, the improvement in mental health that comes from exercise seemed worth having.

Most people starting a weight loss campaign tend to assume that cardiovascular exercise (running, elliptical and cross-trainer machines at the gym) is the best exercise to do. What I discovered is that whilst it is a good way to improve your heart health and burn some calories, it does have some disadvantages. It tends to make you hungry and it’s possible that you’ll eat more to fill yourself up, thus negating the benefits of the exercise (and the prospect of running hard to stay still, weight wise). There is also a danger that your body will burn muscle, not fat. This gives rise to the phenomenon of ‘skinny fat’ where people have severely restricted calories, done lots of cardio and lost all their muscle. Don’t go there - it will be hard work to get your muscle back.

The alternative is to work on building strength. You might do traditional weight training or perhaps some bodyweight exercise. There are lots of other strength training approaches but they all follow this principle: putting your muscles under stress by making them do work forces the body to repair and grow those muscles. To do this takes energy so as well as the calories burned from actually exercising, your body will require calories to repair and grow. You can supplement strength training with some cardiovascular exercise, but you shouldn't be spending hours on a treadmill because every calorie you're expending isn't being used to rebuild your body.

When I started my amazing year as a gym newbie, I did quite a lot of cardio work. After a few weeks I hired a great personal trainer (PT). As well as working to assess and restore my mobility, he taught me strength training and from that point I really made good progress. Whilst I could have used weight machines at the gym, I'm glad he taught me compound movements like squats and deadlifts. These movements mimic the functional movements we make in everyday life so the benefits carry into your daily routine.

If I was starting again, I’d have jumped straight into strength training. As well as losing weight, you will get the satisfaction of becoming stronger. As you age, this is very important. And no, you won’t grow huge (unless you want to).

I see the money I spent on personal training as an insurance policy as much as an investment. I knew that if I learned how to work safely and efficiently I would lower my risk of injury. And I knew that if I got injured I’d probably give up. I didn't get injured. I didn't give up. And now I'm equipped to strength train for life.

You don’t have to hire a PT on your own. A number of PTs run group classes, which divides their hourly rate by 2 or 4. Sure, you won’t get quite as much personalised attention, but you will learn how to do things properly. And you can always have the occasional one to one session.

If you already know how to use weights, you could simply follow a programme from a book or an online forum but be sure to check your 'form' regularly.

Note that you don't necessarily need to join a gym. Some types of strength training (e.g. TRX) can be done at home. TRX looks deceptively simple, but whilst it won't be the same as lifting metal you will improve your strength significantly. Using apps like Trube you can find qualified and screened personal trainers who will come to your home, office or hotel.

I joined a gym and it turned out to be a good decision for me. As well as being very well appointed, it was directly on my way to and from work, and therefore difficult to avoid. If you have to go out of the way to get to the gym, you probably won't. If you're thinking of joining a gym, try several out before signing up for a contract and check that they are well equipped and convenient.

The same goes for PTs - try a few out and find one that's right for you. Make sure your PT really understands and buys in to your goal. If they're not asking you how you're progressing towards your goal, they're not interested in your outcome, so find another.

During the last 12 weeks of my amazing year I worked with an online PT, Olly Foster. He specialises in body transformation, having been a cover model for Men's Health magazine. Because I had learned how to lift weights safely and effectively, he was able to give me a customised eating and training plan, and he monitored progress very closely by having me send measurements and photos every 2 weeks. I had already made great progress but this was an ambitious way to finish the year. In September I weighed 77kg, with a body fat of about 17%. By mid December (week 12), I weighed just under 70kg with a body fat of just under 10%. Incredible. There are a number of PTs working in this space. Be sure to do your research and get references (don’t just rely on the testimonials on their web site).

 Needless to say, if you have any medical condition that might be affected by, or affect exercise then see your doctor first. If you're using a gym and/or a PT they will ask you to complete a health questionnaire as a safeguard. 

This probably doesn't mean you can't exercise (sorry!) but does mean you need to be careful.

To summarise: limit your cardio, find a form of strength training that works for you, get someone to show you how to do it safely, and work hard. The rewards will be considerable.

Everything I learned about Nutrition

There’s just one thing you need to know about diets. They all ultimately work the same way - creating a calorie gap by changing the amount or types of food you eat.

As I said in yesterday’s post, if the calorie gap averages out to 500 calories per day over the course of a week you’ll lose weight at about 0.5kg per week.

So how many calories should you be eating? Simple - use an online calculator to find your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (based on your gender, age, height, weight, activity level) - there’s one at http://www.iifym.com/tdee-calculator/. Then knock off 500 calories.

If you are already tracking your food intake, you may have found yourself anticipating meals (a big roast dinner, perhaps) and ensuring that you compensate for that by eating a light breakfast and lunch. Similarly, if you had a big dinner the night before, you could eat very lightly until the following dinner time. It seems that as long as your weekly calorie deficit averages 500 calories, day to day fluctuations won’t derail your progress.

Likewise, if you prefer to have larger meals every day, consider restricting your eating to 2 meals in 8 hours (lunch and dinner). This is quite good for shift workers, too.

So that’s the calorie gap - all you have to do is maintain that for the duration of your goal. As you lose weight, you’ll need to recalculate your TDEE, perhaps every 4 weeks.

Having determined how many calories to eat, it’s then a question of finding a way of eating that suits you, gets results and is easy to stick to for up to a year. Some people prefer to drop carbs, others prefer to limit fats. You might need to experiment to find the one for you.

This distinction between a diet and a way of eating is important. If you perceive you’re making a sacrifice (as we tend to do on a diet) there’s a high chance you won’t stick to it. If it just happens to be how you eat, you will.

There is a growing opinion that ‘flexible dieting’ is the way forward. As long as you’re eating the right number of calories and the right split between protein, fat and carbs then it doesn’t matter where those calories come from. It’s worth your investigation - see https://healthyeater.com/.

Whatever approach you take, be careful to ensure that your body is getting the minimum amount of fats that it requires - at 25% of your daily calories should come from fat. You should also eat sufficient protein to maintain muscle levels (otherwise there’s a danger that your body will start to burn muscle, not fat, and you really don’t want that). If you can’t make sense of it, an hour’s consultation with a qualified PT or Nutrition Coach would give you a plan that’s right for you, for about £60-70. My own experience was that when I got the nutrition side sorted, I really started to get some benefits. So invest in yourself and get it right.

Whatever you do, make sure you keep tracking measurements and a food diary (and check you’re following it properly).

There is one other thing you need to know. At the end of any weight loss project you are in great danger of putting the weight you lost back on. It’s just the body doing what it’s genetically programmed to do - maintain a ‘set point’ weight. It turns out that you can manipulate this set point using a technique called ‘reverse dieting’. Basically you very gradually increase your calories back to a maintenance level over, typically, a 4-6 week period (depending how big a calorie gap you created). If you don’t do this, the body will go into hoarding mode, and you’ll undo all your good work quicker than you dared imagine.

To summarise: find a way of eating that you can stick to for the long term, cut your calories and track the effect it has on your weight. Consider a consultation with a nutritional coach for best results.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the other component to a weight loss plan - exercise.

 

 

Fat Loss - the basics

It turns out that the process of losing fat is pretty simple. By consuming fewer calories than your body expends, it is forced to use fat reserves. Creating a gap between calories in and calories out is at the heart of any plan.

When we talk about weight loss, we generally mean ‘fat loss’ but it’s also possible for the body to lose muscle, and this is undesirable because muscle is hard to replace and you'll end up with the "skinny fat" look. 

You should aim to lose no more than 0.5kg per week in order to prevent muscle loss. The gap that you need to create is about 500kcal per day.

There are a number of ways to achieve this.

  • reduce the number of kcal you consume, by changing your diet.
  • increase the number of kcal you burn through exercise.

An ideal long-term plan will combine both aspects - eat a bit less, move a bit more.

As you lose weight, your metabolism starts to adjust in order to try and maintain your weight. This is the main cause of weight loss plateaus, but it’s fair to say that most people who think they’re in a plateau are often not.

In previous posts I talked about the importance of tracking your progress by

  • weighing yourself regularly
  • taking photos regularly
  • taking physical measurements regularly

The rate of weight loss is not a straight line. If you were to weigh yourself every day, you’d find that your weight fluctuates. This fluctuation is mostly due to varying water weight - some days you carry more water than other days.

Some people weigh themselves once a week or even two weeks so as to take account of this natural fluctuation. I chose not to do that because that’d give me too much scope to go off the rails. To save my sanity, I used a iPhone app called True Weight to log my weight every day. The app calculates a moving average weight over the last 7 days, and this takes care of the fluctuations. Helpfully, it tells you how much weight you’re losing, and how big a calorie gap that represents. If you're on Android try Libra app.

If you do nothing else, regular weighing and adjusting your diet and exercise until the app shows you the rate of weight loss you desire will get you to your goal. 

If you also commit to weekly or fortnightly photos and measurements you should have a lot of evidence to tell you if things are going in the right direction.

Some people don’t want to weigh themselves, and that’s fine too. Just take regular measurements and photos, and keep note of when clothes are too big for you. Your feedback loop won't be as tight, and it will be more difficult to know whether what you're doing is working. But it's better than nothing. 

Ultimately it’s about finding a feedback loop that works for you.

Remember - in 12 weeks you could lose 6kg or more. That could make all the difference to how you feel on holiday, whether you can fit in to favourite clothes for a special occasion. Could you commit to that?

As of December 26th, 2015, Easter 2016 is 13 weeks away. If you start now you could be looking and feeling very different by then!

Tomorrow I'll share what I learned about nutrition. 

Boxing Day

image.jpg

If there is one day of the year I associate with going for a walk, it’s Boxing Day. After the feasting of Christmas, it seems only natural (and desirable) to get some fresh air and a little exercise.

It's amazing how such a simple act can make such a difference to how the day unfolds. As well as the exercise benefit, the other thing I find is that the very act of walking seems to calm my mind, clarify my thinking, and put me in the zone to have my best ideas. 

Realising this, one of the small habits I chose to implement during this amazing year was to walk at least 10,000 steps everyday.

Living in London my easy way to achieve this was to get off the tube one or two stops early. This year it was somewhat forced upon me because the tube station next to my office was closed from January to mid December. But now the station has re-opened I still find myself using the previous station and walking just that little bit further. 

 It's a good example of how you can develop an ingrained habit and stick to it. Along with drinking more water, this is the type of habit that you miss when you don't do it.

In the coming days I'm going to share everything I learned about exercise and nutrition and will then link this to your goals in the final few days. 

So go for a walk, keep thinking about your goals (and all the ways that others can help or hinder you) and keep an eye out for the emails to come. 

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas to you.

However you spend your day, I hope that this Christmas begins to take on a new dimension. One in which you’ve become awakened to some changes you want to make, and are starting to feel that you can achieve them over the coming year. It is, after all, a time of birth and growth.

If you’ve already started tracking your food intake then be gentle with yourself today. I promise I will. By all means make smart choices such as filling up on protein and veggies, keep drinking lots of water (you started, right?) and eat more slowly. But don’t be a grinch. If there’s one day you can relax, it’s today.

I continue to be humbled and heartened by the feedback I’m getting, both from people reading this series of emails, and more widely from people I talk to. Some of you have taken time to let me know how my journey resonates with you. Thank you so much.

In the last month or so I’ve also had some amazing conversations with people in the gym. One of the “alpha” pack - tall, muscular, fit - started chatting with me after I’d finished my workout the other day. He’d been away on honeymoon for a few weeks and had returned. We only usually acknowledged each other with a nod and a smile. But he wanted to tell me just how impressed he was with the results I was getting. He wanted to know what I was doing, so he and his wife could continue to develop themselves (not that either of them needed to, in my eyes). I was very chuffed. And then humbled. And then I realised:

You never know who you are inspiring.

That thought triggered a question:

When you’re inspiring others around you, how does that change the world?

If we’re feeling good about ourselves, then maybe we have more energy and determination to help other people. In my first email, I mentioned the movie ‘Pay it Forward’. This series of emails has already demonstrated to me just how much reward that comes from helping others without any expectation of return.

Living in an age of war, injustice, famine, catastrophic weather, poverty and disease, it seems to me that the world needs all the inspired people it can muster.

By striving for your goals, and paying it forward I believe you really can make the world a better place.

This insight has been one of the profoundest things I’ve learned during this amazing year.

May you (and those you love) have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas which is peace;
The heart of Christmas which is love.
~Ada V. Hendricks

Tony.

Christmas Eve

Hello.

I remember the excitement of Christmas Eve when I was a kid. So many possibilities lurked in the boxes under the tree, it was a time of real wonder.

Over the last week, I’ve shared with you what I learned about the importance of knowing why you want to change, how motivation comes from taking action (not the other way around) and how habits help us take action consistently. I then wrote about how you can use those tools to understand where you’re at, set achievable goals begin to understand how you’re going to achieve those goals by identifying who can help or hinder you. All of this is interspersed with some of the tips I learned along the way. 

These emails are my Christmas gift to you. 

I hope you’ve had a chance to open them, absorb them and begin to think about, and perhaps start to take action towards making any changes you desire in 2016. Please do take time to go back over the archive and let me know how you're getting on.

There’s plenty more content to come between now and 4th January so I’ll give you a couple of days to catch up.

But do look out for my email tomorrow because I'll share a deep insight that to this day keeps me very motivated.

Meanwhile, I know that Christmas isn't always a time of comfort and joy. If that's true for you, I hope this helps: 

Christmas -- that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance -- a day in which we think of everything and everyone we have ever loved. (Augusta E. Rundel)

Take care,

Tony. 

Who can help you achieve your goal?

Having begun to set a goal, let’s now consider how you might go about achieving it. The first step is to identify who can help you get there. It’s quite a simple process that acknowledges that whilst you might be responsible for making the change in your life, you can rarely do it in isolation. Some people and organisations will be able to help you, and some can hinder your progress, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Step 1. Make a list of people and organisations who can help or hinder you

The first name should be you. Then consider named family members, friends, colleagues, community group members, professionals etc.

As an example

To reach my goal of <x> by <date>, the following people can help or hinder me

  • Me
  • Mum
  • Friend Alice
  • A Personal Trainer
  • Colleague Bob

Step 2. For each of these people or organisations make a list of HOW they can help or hinder you. 

Try to list things they would naturally do, not things you’d like them to change on your behalf.

As an example, thinking about a weight loss or fitness goal:

To reach my goal of <x> by <date>, the following people can help or hinder me in these ways

Me

  • help: improve my diet
  • help: begin to exercise
  • hinder: give myself excuses
  • hinder: not be honest with myself

Mum

  • help: cheer me on
  • hinder: not understand my goal, be worried about me
  • hinder: expect me to eat a big roast dinner every week

Friend Alice

  • help: come to the gym with me three times per week
  • hinder: tempt me with our weekly curry night
  • hinder: try and sabotage my success

Colleague Bob

  • help: sponsor me
  • hinder: take me to the pub

Personal Trainer

  • help: teach me how to exercise safely and efficiently
  • hinder: not teach me to be independent

Get the idea?

You should find this exercise takes about 30 minutes but take as long as you need. 

After Christmas, we'll work on this list to understand how we can identify the actions that you'll need to take to reach your goal.

Over the next few days, continue to clarify your goal and expand this list. Just keep chipping away at it.

Meanwhile, continue with your tracking and other new habits, and let me know what you're working on.

Until next time, take care,

Tony.

Setting Goals (part 1)

Hello.

Thanks to everyone who sent me feedback - I'm glad that this series is proving interesting and useful. Do let me know if there's anything you want me to cover or explain further - just hit reply to this email.

So far, I hope you have understood why you might want to make a change, realised that you need to take action in order to feel motivation and taken stock of your current situation. If you haven't done that, then please read the previous emails before doing this next step.

When you're ready it’s now time to take action and explore some potential goals so we can turn your 'whys' into reality through taking action.

The SMART critiera is a well known framework for setting goals. There are probably others, too.

‘S’ stands for Specific. It’s all too easy to say ‘I’ll lose some weight, or drop a few dress sizes, or save some money’ but if you don’t commit to a specific outcome you’re wasting your time. This is because you will tend to rationalise in favour of underachievement. So be specific, and also state it in the positive and in terms of the final outcome. To me, ‘I want to weigh 70kg’ feels clearer than to ‘I want to lose 25kg’ - it’ll be obvious when I’ve got there.

‘M’ stands for Measurable. You can monitor weight, so that’s good. But you might be tempted to choose a goal which you can’t easily measure. ‘I want to be the most attractive I’ve ever been’, for example. It’s a great motivator, but you won’t know when you’re there.

‘A’ stands for Attainable. Is this a goal you can achieve without relying on other people, for example? Given the specifics and timescale, do you even have a chance of achieving it?

‘R’ stands for Relevant. Is this a goal that fits in well with everything else you’re trying to achieve in life? Are there any conflicts?

‘T’ stands for Time-bound. When will you have made this change? Make sure it’s realistic and specific - specify a date, not a time period.

The key thing I learned is that you should be prepared for a long haul if your goal is around weight and fitness. By all means set some interim goals - I did this myself - but you really need to commit a significant amount of time to get the result you want. For me it was 12 months.

I was sat on the beach on New Year’s Day thinking ‘this time next year I want to be transformed and weigh 70kg’. And I think it’s fair to say I achieved that. Note how I could have said ‘in 12 months I want to be less fat’. It wouldn’t have had half the power over me. I then identified some milestones such as reaching 85kg, reaching 20% body fat, etc and I tracked and celebrated achieving them along the way. I know myself well enough to realise that if I had said ‘I want to reach 85kg’ (with the intention of setting another goal when I reached that), then the chances are that I would reach that and then think I’m done. Does that make sense? 

If your goal is around weight loss, experts agree that you can safely and reliably lose 0.5kg per week. In a year you can lose 26kg. It’ll be hard work, not least because weight loss requires a lot of mental strength, as much as a physical commitment. But you can do it. 

Sure, there are quick fixes for rapid weight loss, but if there’s anything I’ve learned about the body, it’s the fact that homeostasis - the body’s tendency to maintain a certain weight - will do everything it can to sabotage your attempts if they are unrealistic. So stick to 0.5kg/week.

If you don’t want to track weight, you could track measurements or clothes sizes. I had much less of an idea about what size I’d become. Turns out I’m a 27” waist and a ‘small’ shirt size. I had no idea, given I was wearing 36” jeans and large shirts a year ago. But you might already know you want to be a size 8. If so, go for it, and set some interim goals around sizes.

If your goal is around money, you could at the very least save 10% of your net pay per month. Perhaps more, once you get into the swing of it.

If 12 months is too far out, you could consider a minimum of 6 months. If you start now (21st December), you could weigh 13kg less in time for next Summer. Or perhaps there is a significant birthday, anniversary or event coming up. Plan ahead! But give yourself enough time to make sustained and continuous progress.

I’ve got a confession to make. This year was just part of a 3 year plan - to be in the best shape of my life for my 50th birthday. That’s a more high-level goal, and I now need to get clarity on specific goals for the next 12 months. They might well be expressed in terms of strength. That’s my homework for the Christmas holidays.

I’ll write more about goals soon. For now, start exploring possible goals around the changes you want to make so that we’ve got something to work with. Write some ideas down - on paper - and give them some thinking time over Christmas. Make sure they're well-formed, using the SMART criteria.

Until tomorrow, take care.

 

Tony.

Becoming aware of where you're at

Hello again.

Recapping the story so far: understand why you want to change and begin to learn how to take small steps and build habits.

The chances are that you didn't get to your current situation in just a few weeks. My weight increased and my mobility decreased over many years. I was busy doing other things in life.

It's time to become aware of where you're at. This will help you set an achievable goal in the coming days. Would you rather do this now? Or bleary-eyed on New Year's Day?

If you're thinking about changing your weight then jump on the scales. Also measure your chest, waist, hips and neck. Take some photos (and keep them safe).

If you're thinking about becoming fitter, try to get a sense of how fit you are at the moment. For example, can you walk up two flights of stairs without getting out of breath?

This series of emails is about weight and fitness, but the principles apply to most changes. If you want to become better with money, for example, then get clarity about your finances. How much are you saving each month? How much are you borrowing right now? Are you living hand to mouth?

Then begin to track the things you're doing in relation to that change. 

For example, what are you eating? What are you drinking?  What foods do you enjoy? What foods can't you resist? How do you feel after eating? Keep a food diary.

How often are you taking the staircase instead of the lift? Keep a note of this.

What are you spending your money on? Look at your bank statements or receipts instead of filing them away or shredding them.

Just observe. Don't judge.

Begin to build some new habits to become and remain aware. 

I found MyFitnessPal to be invaluable during my amazing year. I made it a rule to track everything I ate BEFORE I ate it. I discovered something magical. The act of tracking began to influence my behaviour without any drama or guilt.

You don't need to use an app. A notebook would be fine. But commit to building that state of awareness and see what happens for you.

Start today and keep going over Christmas.

Until tomorrow, take care.

 

Tony.

Action brings Motivation, Habits bring Action

Hello there.

I hope you're having a good weekend.

Yesterday I talked about taking time to understand why any change you're beginning to make is important. That understanding will be the thing that keeps you going through the weeks and months ahead. 

But the other important thing is to actually get started towards making any change.

I found that it's really easy to put off making changes, blaming a lack of motivation. It surprised me to learn that motivation comes from taking action, not the other way around. So ANYTHING you can start to do differently right now will motivate you (as it did me).

I'll talk about goals in the next few days and of course there will be actions arising from those. But meanwhile, here are some things you could start to do RIGHT NOW, knowing that they're probably good for you. Notice how you feel after doing them for a few days.

  • Make your bed before leaving the bedroom in the morning
  • Drink 2-3L of water each day (yes, really - tip #1: have a large jug or bottle, fill it every day, and make sure you empty it before you go to bed. tip #2: carbonated spring water is tastier and the gas will fill you up)
  • Take 20 minutes to eat your lunch or dinner 

Note that these aren't 'stop' actions. They're 'start' actions. Work towards the positive, wherever possible. 

The other thing I Iearned is that we need actions to become automatic habits if we're going to get them done with any consistency. If they're something you have to think about doing, or something you can reason with or rebel against then guess what? You probably won't get them done.

There are a number of books and websites about how to build habits, including

The mini/micro habit approach is particularly interesting, because, as the name suggests, these are things you can start right now and have a big impact. Watch BJ Fogg speaking about this at TEDxFremont.

The more you build habits that let you automatically take action, the stronger your motivation will be. Success breeds success.

Why not try to build some new small habits over Christmas so you can begin 2016 feeling confident that you can perform the actions relating to your goal?

If nothing else, try to make it a habit to read these emails every day until 4th January!

Until next time, take care,

Tony.

It all begins with "Why"

I'm really heartened to see so many of you sign up for this newsletter already - thank you for encouraging me to share what I've learned on my amazing year.

The first thing I discovered is that all successful change begins with a clear understanding of 'why?'

If you don't have a good reason to make a change, the chances are that you won't. For me, it was mostly health-related, but I also wanted to improve my singing. For you it might be something different. 

It's natural to initially think in terms of what you don't want - "I don't want to be fat any more", "I don't want to be out of breath" etc. Whilst that might be the initial source of inspiration, focussing on it may hold you back, because you have to continue think about the thing that you don't want.

But the magic happens when you think about what you do want - "I want to feel good in my clothes". "I want to be able to play with my kids or grandchildren". And then you can ask yourself what's important about that (go on, I dare you).

It's likely that any kind of change you're thinking of making is going to take more than a few days and it will sometimes be hard going. Having a very clear vision of why the change you're making is important to you will make all the difference between success and failure. 

So why not take a few minutes today and really explore why you want to begin to change.

Until next time, take care,

Tony.