Do you want to get slimmer, fitter, shredded, bulky, but you don’t know where to begin with the organizational side of it? Don’t worry, a lot of people are in the same boat, and the difference between success and failure can involve the smallest of changes.
For me personally, I think I have some sort of attention problem. I don’t want to put a label on it like ADHD or ADD or whatever because I’m not qualified to diagnose that sort of thing. Instead, I’ll lay it down as it happens to me and you’ll see where my difficulty is in staying on track with my goals.
First off, I have pretty good motivation for exercise. Secondly, I have slightly less (okay, maybe a lot less) motivation to keep to a diet/nutrition plan.
My big problem with exercise, however, is planning it all and sticking to it. Sometimes, something as stupid as indecision as to whether to run, cycle, weight train, do some intervals in the park, go swimming or do yoga, result in me doing nothing at all.
The answer I have gotten from many people is to schedule my whole week into training, work and rest blocks – or similar. “Just schedule it!” – Easy peasy right?
Not for me. Doing a schedule is just adding another thing to do for me, and it compounds my frustrating attention problem because I think I should be doing something constructive instead of sitting down and planning to do something constructive.
What’s worse, is that I will inevitably not be able to stick to the schedule because of the happenings of life. And then the whole thing goes out the window because what I was supposed to do Wednesday I am now doing Friday and….argh!…Right?
Another problem I have with schedules is that I feel guilty if I don’t do something that’s clearly written on paper/digital format for me to do. And what if I don’t want to do that particular form of exercise because of some other factor? What do I do instead?
And this is for the activity I’m most motivated to do, so you can imagine my problem with diet and work scheduling. I am self-employed and can work to my own hours – a godsend if you have some organizational skills, but sometimes a problem if you are like me!
So, planning ahead doesn’t work, and winging it on the fly doesn’t work. That left only one option as far as I was concerned, so I tried it out.
Logging Life with the Life Log
When someone told me to keep a log – or diary if you will – of my daily life, I gave my usual derisive “pfffff” in response. It wasn’t until I thought about it, and adapted the idea for my wonderfully idiosyncratic mind that it started to gather traction.
Of course my initial knee-jerk rejection was based on the same foundation as everything else; that this would involve time, planning, and more needless paper work in a life already full of it.
Just writing down a few words of what I did and in what order actually took a fraction of the time that pre-emptive scheduling does.
Think about it: you have oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts for breakfast, you write ‘oatmeal, blueberries, walnuts’. Eventually, because this is for you and only you, you end up blending an unofficial shorthand into it, and it becomes ‘om + bbs + wnuts’ or something – you get the point. But that's quick! Another example is ‘Run 5k 22 mins’ – and done.
I know what you are thinking though; ‘But how does that help you stay on track, it’s only retrospective?’
And that’s the beauty of it. For one thing, writing creates a cognitive link to what you are entering into the log. It means your working memory will improve. Suddenly I began to remember days on end of my own activities, food consumption, exercises completed, work tasks accomplished (and unaccomplished) and so on. Even how well I slept, whether I had alcohol and if my back was sore went in to the life log. Something like this: Alc: N, Back 7/10, Sleep. 8 hrs….etc.
What this does is to create a pattern of your activities and gives you something tangible to work with if you need to sharpen up somewhere. When you eat something like a cake, you feel crap writing it in there (and you must write it in there to retain the log’s integrity), and you may find the next time you are tempted to eat a cake that you abstain so you don’t have that filthy entry in your log.
It took no time at all for me to feel the benefit of doing this. Instead of making schedules that only make you feel like a failure when you slip, you make it into a rewarding and healthy habit of monitoring. See how many days you have gone without an alcoholic drink, or notice that you’ve clocked so many kilometres on the road, or hours in the gym. Just timing your rest days and figuring out what muscle group to do next time you can get to the gym becomes easy.
And it really takes no time.
What Parameters Should I Monitor?
My additions to the log evolved over time because I realized I could easily just add another check box or whatever to the list. I write the date at the top, and I might put the odd time on somewhere to keep a general idea of when I’m eating this or working out etc.
This isn’t counting calories, before you start feeling exhausted just thinking about doing it. Simply write what you eat, in abbreviated form if it makes sense to you when you read back. I tend to only comma separate the food inputs, unless there are hours in between or I do some other ‘loggable’ activity in between meals, like a workout or something.
The idea that you have to write any junk you eat in there may put you off eating it in the first place, and reaching for the fruit bowl or something instead. Also, you get really good at estimating your macro intake, and most of the time that’s enough to keep your fat loss or weight maintenance at the level you want.
If it's not enough to keep your fat loss or weight management goal on course then in just a couple of weeks you will have a bench mark with which to work, and so you can replace food items here and there and trim the bad stuff off even more.
Same thing, just write what you do. If you’re like me, you can’t plan every workout to minute detail, so this way you write it afterwards.
It ends up sort of planning your next session by default anyway. You’ll feel good when you write it in and sometimes that’s all the drive you need to do it in the first place. I like seeing a whole run of days where I’ve done some exercise.
You can zoom in a bit on the exercise front and do little mini-logs within your main log if you want. Weight lifters might particularly like this as they can incorporate the movements and load they have lifted for each workout. Just write down little abbreviations again, e.g. BP for bench press. The weight, The reps, The sets. Easy. You’ll notice improvement as you go, and you’ll know what to stick on the rack at the start of the next gym session.
Really important, this is. Athletes and anyone who regularly does exercise should do it anyway. If something has been niggling you for days, or you have a chronic complaint, just give it a value on your own chosen scale of severity. These recorded patterns are gold dust to physiotherapists and the like, and you can look into how best to manage the symptoms and recovery of your own body.
Scientists have discovered that we are very good at judging our own perceived level of pain, effort and so forth. So, if you are consistently logging a 6/10 on the pain scale you might want to take a step back and get it seen to. You’d be surprised how many people suffer through chronic pain and do nothing about it because they don’t attach it to the time axis.
Pain is forgotten when it isn’t there, but that doesn’t mean the damage has healed! You'll see that when it keeps popping up on the log.
Just a rough duration is good here. And if you get up 3 times a night every night then glance at the clock and note it down while you are having your breakfast in the morning. Sleep is the main recovery period for the body and mind so if you aren’t paying attention to anything odd, the life log won’t forget.
Also, I note down my wake-up time next to the date. A lot of people get up ritualistically at the same time every morning but if you do shifts or something that changes you up a lot, then note down your patterns.
Linked to sleep, you can put another arbitrary scale down for fatigue level. One entry of how you feel when you wake up of course, and even one in the afternoon. Or just log the time if you have a particular wave of tiredness at some point. Sometimes you can spot patterns and perhaps correct them. One of the most common problems is the ’crash’ after eating. If this happens to you regularly you can do something to correct it like change your lunch carbs to low GI for example.
I’ll admit it, I like a beer. And that’s okay, but when I have two or three a night for a few nights because of some social gathering, or the football game, or just…because, the calories quickly add up. I like it when I go a few days with the AF (Alcohol Free) box checked in my log.
If you do drink, just note it down. Soon you will realize what your pattern is and when the Doc asks ‘how many drinks a week?', you won’t give him/her the usual BS!!
I'm hesitant to say this is a good idea because, again, it can lead to obsessive behaviour. However, if you limit your measurements (weight, waist, bicep circumference etc.) to once a month or every couple of weeks, it might help keep you motivated.
Honestly, you will see and feel the difference, so hopefully you can avoid the scales and the tape measure as much as possible.
It’s Up To You
You can add more parameters to your heart’s content. Just remember that if you make it too clunky then you’ll become a bit OCD about logging everything, or you’ll be put off doing it at all.
Take it everywhere with you (within reason) and try to stay true to what you are actually doing. There’s no point otherwise. Keep it up for a couple of weeks and you won’t look back; you can improve where things need to be and stick with the stuff that works out well.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes.