It happens every year. You tell yourself that you’re going to get in shape for the summer. You plan on losing weight, getting stronger, and moving better.
Inevitably, as you start to get on a roll, things start to fall apart. You’re invited to graduation party after graduation. Your nieces and nephews all have birthdays in July, so of course you’ll be going out to eat at their favorite pizza place for that.
These are all normal happenings in the life of an adult (or a middle-aged person, whatever you like to be called. I’m pretty sure no one has ever confused me with being an adult). We have obligations that pop, parties that happen, and events that throw our plans off track. Like Mike Tyson once said, everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.
But what if you not only had a plan for when things are going smoothly. What if you also had a plan for the proverbial punch in the face? Do you think you’d be more successful in your fitness endeavors? How likely would you be to actually hit your weight loss goal then?
Well, if you’re lucky, by the end of this article, you may have such a plan. As a matter of fact, there’s no reason you shouldn’t (because I’m basically going to lay one out for you), unless you decide to completely turn a deaf ear to this content.
Before we get to that, let’s learn a little bit about intentions…
When Plans Go Array
One of the biggest excuses I hear as a fitness professional when it comes to why one was unable to stick to their nutrition is because of obligations. We all have obligations of some sort or another. For most of us, the obligations that tend to trip us up in our pursuit of better nutrition are going out to eat and parties.
Both of these situations can be tough. First, it’s hard to know what you will have available for food when you’re trying to adhere to certain nutritional guidelines. Especially in a party setting. Going to parties, you just don’t know what types of food will be there for you to consume.
Peer pressure is another big factor that plays into these scenarios (yes, even us big adults get peer pressured. Here’s a social test you can try: if you generally go out with your friends and have a couple of drinks, try deciding not to have a drink and instead only have water the next time you go out together. See what types of looks and remarks you get, then try to resist the urge to give in. Peer pressure). When you’re with friends and family, you simply feel more obligated to eat and drink what they’re eating and drinking.
And sometimes it’s okay to decide to jump off the wagon. I certainly enjoy partaking in a bit of brownies and ice cream from time to time (okay…maybe it’s more like every other week…fine, maybe it’s more like every weekend…there, are you happy?!?). Especially if you’re the kind of person that can get back on the wagon the next day.
But, for he majority of us, we don’t fall into the category of being able to get back to our clean nutritional habits after a night of indulging. We typically convince ourselves that we’ll jump back on it on Monday. Or, if you happen to go out in the middle of the week, you tell yourself that you’ve already ruined the week, so you might as well eat what you want.
Some of this is mind games that we play on ourselves to make us feel better. And some of it is deep psychological stuff that needs dealt with professionally. But most of this self-sabotage can be avoided if you only have a plan. A plan for getting punched in the face when you don’t see it coming.
Implementation Intentions and Staying on track
The aforementioned nutritional indiscretions don’t happen because you didn’t have good intentions. Absolutely you wanted to choose a good meal when you went to Cheesecake Factor. But, once you got there, you saw the 257 varieties of cheesecake available and couldn’t help but try at least a couple of them.
Intentions are all well and good. But intentions mean nothing without follow through. And, for us, our follow through means setting new intentions. More specifically, we’re going to learn how to set implementation intentions.
What are Implementation Intentions?
In his awesome book (pun intended…you’ll see), Two Awesome Hours, Josh Davis refers to implementation intentions as a plan to implement a certain action if a relevant cue arises. In other words, it’s the plan you’re going to enact once you get punched in the face.
These plans are simply a set of if-then scenarios you set up to have a go-to strategy for situations you don’t see coming.
To help clear things up, let’s put together a couple of implementation intentions that relate to the situations I mentioned before. First, let’s say it’s the 4thof July and you’re planning on going to your local neighborhood block party. Since you’ve been to previous block parties, you know that the food selection is typically not the best. But, before this year, you’ve never really thought about what you could do to prepare for the indulgent options you’ll encounter.
This time, though, you’re going in with a plan. You’ve set up a couple of implementation intentions that will guide you and get you through this situation. The first intention you set goes like this:
If I plan on going to the block party, I’ll eat before I go so that I’m not as hungry and therefore not as tempted to eat the food there.
This intention gets you off to a good start. Here, you are in control because you are eating under your terms. Next, you know that you typically enjoy a few alcoholic beverages at the party. But this is something you enjoy because of the social aspect, so you decide not to take this away completely. The next intention you set for the block party, then, goes like this:
If I go to the block party, I’ll be sure to drink one bottle of water after every alcoholic drink I have.
This is a wonderful strategy because it not only ensures that you stay hydrated, it will also fill you up quicker and keep your alcohol consumption down over the course of the night.
These are just a couple of implementation intentions you could set for a party scenario like this. Now, let’s look at another common example. Let’s say you’re going out to eat with some friends at a restaurant you’ve never been to. The first intention you might want to set would look like this:
If I go out to eat at a new restaurant, I’ll look up the menu beforehand and pick what I want to eat. This way I am not tempted to pick something that doesn’t align with my goals when I’m at the restaurant.
In this example, you’re eliminating the chances of you picking something that won’t keep you on your nutritional track. It’s likely that everybody else will be picking carb-heavy meals, which would then tempt you to do the same. But choosing beforehand eliminates this decision.
You may also want to set another implementation intention for drinking, similar to the party example before. This intention may look something like this:
If I go out to eat with friends, I’ll allow myself one drink before the meal and one drink after the meal.
This strategy set you up for success because it’s likely you won’t want the drink after the meal as you will likely be too full.
Set Yourself Up for Success
So in order to help yourself moving forward, set aside some time to put these intentions together. Start by coming up with a list of situations that typically come up which would normally throw you off track. You’ve seen our examples above, which are pretty regular occurrences for most of us, so feel free to add these to your list.
Next, come up with a implementation intention for each one of these instances. Make sure it’s a rule that you will follow. Remember, you are setting your own rules here, so you can be as tight or as loose you want to be.
Finally, stick to your intentions! This seems obvious, but times will pop up when you will say to yourself “I’ll try that next time”. And the more you let them slip, the less likely you will be to reach your health & fitness goals.