I was 15 years old, standing in front of 20 individuals two to three times my age with dumbbells at their feet, staring at me and waiting for the next instruction.
It was my first time teaching a class, and my armpit sweat stains were particularly large.
My mouth was dry, and my face was bright red.
Although I was pretty sure I had passed through puberty, my cracking voice had me doubting even that truth.
But I did it.
I gave them a badass workout, and that threw me down a career path of personal training and fitness.
Since that first class, I’ve seen many new clients come through our studio doors, looking vibrant and smiling from ear to ear.
They are so excited to begin their new exercise program.
They light up with how good they're going to look in a few short months from now.
Pretty soon, all their friends will gather around to stare at their shredded eight-packs in awe.
Then they come in for session number two, and they arrive with a little less enthusiasm.
They move with some stiffness, and they aren’t as excited to be there.
Then, that’s it.
No session number three.
No session number four.
I can’t blame them. I’ve tried and failed at countless life changes.
I’ve failed at routines for fitness, nutrition, meditation, visualization, blogging, stretching and so much more.
Sh*t, I changed my college major four times before I finally graduated.
As many clients disappeared over time, I realized it wasn’t nutrition, squats or kettle bells that kept people from looking and feeling better.
It was willpower and self-discipline.
We know salad is probably a better option than a burger for lunch, protein shakes are likely a better option than Cheetos and squats are better than couches (for our health, not our enjoyment).
As I built up more of my own shame from having the willpower and attention span of a 6-year-old, I began to wonder if there was something that could be done to overcome those barriers.
What can people do to stick with a program and really change their lives?
Why is it so hard to add new habits, and why do old habits die so hard?
Suck it up, and push harder?
Don’t be a pushover, perhaps?
No, those “words of wisdom” make me want to curl up into a ball and give up trying to change forever.
So as I dug into some psychology reading and tactics for change, I found some things that helped me and my clients on our journeys for changes.
Here are some things you should try next time you embark on a change in your life:
1. Make small wins.
In psychology, there is this idea of chunking.
Chunking is the breaking up of big tasks into smaller, less daunting ones.
You can try to just set a goal to wear your Lululemon gear around your house.
For the first week, just put on your workout clothes. That’s it.
Then on week two, put on your Lulu outfit and actually leave the house.
It's not necessarily to go exercise, but to get those small feelings of achievement.
You haven’t even gone to the gym yet!
But, you’re building small habits and small wins that give you momentum to stick with your exercise program in the long term.
So many people write exhaustive workout programs rather than breaking it down into smaller, more attainable mini-programs.
For example, if you don’t workout at all, there’s no way you’ll stick with a plan to lift weights four times per week, go on 5-mile jog twice per week and run sprints every other day.
Instead, try to exercise one day per week, and build from there.
Dr. Jade Teta, founder of Metabolic Effect, always says,
The perfect plan that is not possible to do is not the perfect plan.
2. Prep your day.
Get in the habit of planning your tomorrow during today.
By writing out the activities you plan to do and then preparing for those activities the night before, you are much more likely to accomplish what you set out to do.
For me, I'll write down what time I will blog in the morning and for how long, and which pair of comfortable underwear I will rock.
I set my coffee pot to go off 10 minutes before I wake up, and I have a list of five to six things I’ll do that day.
I always execute on that plan right down to the undies.
But when simply I think about blogging, I often times come up short.
Students who actually write down the time and place they are going to study ahead of time will more likely actually study when the time comes.
These sorts of planning exercises release endorphins in your brain that get you excited for the activity ahead.
What time will you go to the gym? Are your exercise clothes laid out?
3. Make deposits in your willpower bank.
In her book, "The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, And What You Can Do to Get More Of It," Professor Kelly McGonigal (winking at you, "Harry Potter" fans) talks about how willpower is exhaustible.
It’s like a bank account: You can make deposits and withdrawals, and you can overdraft, too.
But instead of overdraft fees, your body pays by crushing a pizza or by drinking too much and hooking up with a particular individual you may not have otherwise chosen.
Anytime you make a conscious decision throughout the day, you are withdrawing from your daily willpower bank account.
The bigger the decision, or the more mental effort it takes, the more of your willpower money is withdrawn from your account.
This is why romantic affairs are more likely to happen at night after a long day of work, and that pizza is more appetizing at 6 pm than 6 am.
This is why tactics like preparing the night before and building momentum from small wins are so important.
Habits, momentum and preparations take little to no effort, and therefore, you'll leave your willpower bank full to spend on other, more taxing activities.
There are also ways to make deposits into your daily willpower bank.
These can be activities like power naps, meditation, nature walks, having a conversation with a friend or a short, intense workout.
These things can build your willpower throughout the day, and they can increase the amount of willpower you have when you're considering whether you actually want to invite someone back to your apartment.
4. Shape your environment.
When I was 20 years old, I dropped out of school and moved in with my older sister and her husband, who both own fitness companies.
I went from having beer in my college fridge to seeing San Pellegrino when I opened the fridge door.
The popcorn in my cabinets was replaced with protein powder and oats.
The people surrounding me went from asking me about parties and girls to asking me about the most recent business and psychology books I’ve read.
This shift in my environment completely changed my life and was a huge key to change.
I was now eating different things, spending my time differently, reading books, exercising more, writing, making more money and doing personal training.
Take inventory of the foods in your house, the people you hang out with and places you visit.
Shape your environment to help your goals, not hurt them.
5. Ask, “What’s my resistance story?”
Any time you make a change in life, you’re going to be met with some resistance and discomfort.
This is completely normal. Everybody feels this way.
The difference between those who successfully change and those who don’t lies in the story they tell about what that resistance means.
Research on persistence says that during tough times, there are two types of people: those who fail, and those who succeed.
The first group who tends to fail or quit will tell themselves things like, “It’s not worth it,”“I’m too busy,” “It isn’t for me” or “I just wasn’t meant to do this.”
The second group who succeeds and pushes through the period of resistance will tell themselves things like, “Pain is weakness leaving the body," “It’s going to be so rewarding when I get there,” “It’s worth it” or “No pain, no gain.”
Neither story is the absolute truth. They just lead to different results.
Being a pessimist leads to quitting yet another program.
Being a optimist provides the will needed to push pass the temporary discomfort.
What’s your resistance story?
Listen to the story you tell yourself when you get to those inevitable hard times.
Once you become aware of your story, you have the power to change it.
When you change your story, you’ll eventually get there.
You will succeed, and all your friends will gather around to stare at your shredded eight-pack in awe.