The Roof Is On Fire–Stop Mowing The Lawn
Mother Teresa once said, “In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” This concept has carryover to virtually every aspect of our lives, but especially nutrition and fitness. I often find myself working with our nutrition coaching clients to stop “mowing the yard when the house is on fire” as Precision Nutrition puts it. We tend to try to do too much, too soon, and focus on overly complicated things when there are simpler things we could address that will lead to even better results. People obsess about things like activated charcoal, pink Himalayan sea salt, trace chemicals in their food, whether 3 sets of 8 is better than 4 sets of 6, etc., while at the same time, they neglect that they drink 14+ alcoholic drinks each week, don’t regularly eat protein dense foods or veggies, and only average 24 workouts per year. Here are some things to consider when setting yourself up for optimal results.
Tackle the most critical variable. Think of this as the step that makes everything else work (or not).
You could think of the “critical variable” as the one “log” that gets stuck and causes a logjam. If removed/corrected, everything else works again. For instance, let’s say you’re having trouble with meal prep. The “critical variable” is that you just don’t know how to cook. As a goal, you can work to explore potential solutions, such as:
● learn to cook 2 easy “go-to” meals of protein and vegetables (e.g. scrambled eggs with veggies, or a grilled chicken breast with a salad), which can serve as the foundation for an ever-expanding meal plan over time; or
● find 1 new simple, healthy recipe this weekend and try it.
If you can isolate the “critical variable”, and your ability to tackle it, start there.
Make it do-able
Any goal you set should meet three criteria:
● ready to do it
● willing to do it
● able to do it
Find something you are ready to do.
If any goal doesn’t meet the “ready, willing, and able” criteria, then you need to revise it until it does. Scale it back, and keep scaling it back, until you find yourself saying, “OK, I can definitely do that.”
In fact, it’s better to make the goal too easy. This builds confidence, is easier to do habitually, and allows you to easily build off of its success.
Tailor goals to nutritional age
There are three components of nutritional age.
1. What you know
2. What you can do
3. What you can do consistently
The more skilled, accurate, and adherent you are, and the more precise your body transformation or athletic performance has to be — the higher your nutritional age.
Make goals specific & concrete
As valuable as it sounds, “eat healthy” is a lousy goal. Even if you’re totally into the concept, “eat healthy” is way too vague and meaningless. Plus, it’s overwhelming. “Eat healthy” is basically an entire behavioral universe. Goals should be as specific and concrete as possible.
This will also enhance your “ready, willing, and able” quotient. Try goals like:
● I’m going to take the stairs each day this week instead of using the elevator.
● I’m going to pack workout clothes every evening before bed and put them in my car.
● I’m going to cut up extra vegetables when preparing dinner to have as a healthy snack the next day.
● I’m going to take one capsule of fish oil every day at breakfast.
Notice how these specify a very clear and concrete thing to do, at a very clear time and/or place.
Also notice the language: “I am going to____” rather than “I’ll try ___”
Use Outcome Based decision making to assess the practice
What are your progress indicators? At the end of two weeks, after assessing adherence, see if that practice moved you closer to your goals. Use outcome-based decision making to determine the next step.
If you aren’t doing the task (less than 80% completion over 2 weeks), or can’t do it, review the steps above and revise until you can. You might need to revise the goal, revise the task, or shrink it further. Have you done the practice more than 80% of the time over the last 2 weeks? If yes, how has it been working? If you are seeing progress, stay the course. If you aren’t seeing progress or progress has stalled, then look at adding a new practice using the same steps above.
-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1