July’s Small Step is relevant no matter where you are in your fitness journey. This time of year can be the most difficult to stay on track with exercise and diet goals because routine is a friend and disruption is the enemy. Oppressive weather, vacations, kids at home and the endless array of outdoor gatherings brimming with food and drink knock us off familiar routines and can distract, tempt and derail the most avid exercisers and healthy eaters.
For all these reasons, if something hasn’t been enjoyable, do-able or working quite right for you lately, it’s doomed to fail during the summer months. Better to adjust your expectations and goals before you give up so you can give yourself a fighting chance to succeed.
Now’s the time to reflect on what is and isn’t working, revamp your goals to get you through the summer, and renew your commitment to fitness and health so you’re off and running when September brings normalcy back into your life.
If you aren’t already keeping a journal, this is a good time to start. In this case, I’m not talking about tracking or recording food intake and exercise. While this type of log is beneficial, especially for those with weight-loss and health-specific goals, a different type of tracking will be more helpful for this month’s assignment. (However, tracking food intake and exercise is part of September’s Small Step. So, if you’re already doing so, keep it going and you’ll be ahead of the game when summer is over.)
Your assignment is to record thoughts, reflections and feelings, both physical and emotional, surrounding food intake and exercise. How were you feeling before and after you ate a meal or snack? What was your internal dialogue when you chose to exercise or not to exercise on a given day? How did you feel after exercising or not exercising? Does exercising at a certain time of the day feel more productive or less productive for you? Does eating certain types of foods or performing certain exercises elicit positive or negative feelings? On the days you feel more fatigued or in a low mood, what did you eat and what types of movement did you perform?
Be sure to journal every day for a minimum of two months. It’s best to jot down these reflections soon after experiencing them. If that’s not possible, make a mental note of them when they occur so you can record them accurately later in the day.
Use your journal to identify positive and negative triggers to your fitness behavior so you can maximize the positive triggers and minimize the negative. The more detail you put in your journal, the more relevant and valuable the information is when setting goals, scheduling exercise and planning meals and snacks.
While this information is vital to setting relevant and achievable fitness goals, it also creates a historical record of your fitness journey. Imagine how inspiring it’ll be for you to flip back to one of your own personal success stories and relive it, particularly at a time when you might be experiencing a set back.
Use the insight you gain from your reflections to set some short-term exercise and diet goals to get you through the summer. Remember to keep in mind the unique circumstances of the season.
Some goals are more difficult to achieve in the summer. For example, it can be tricky if the bulk of your cardio is done outdoors because heat and humidity are valid deterrents. We all need to plan for that and choose either lower intensity outdoor exercise, climate-controlled indoor workouts or water-based alternatives. Other goals are more easily achieved this time of year, such as eating more fresh, local fruits and vegetables.
To avoid other common summer pitfalls, come up with game plans for: including children in your healthy habits, pre-determining what and how much you’ll consume at summer gatherings and researching what you can do for exercise while on vacation. Planning ahead isn’t difficult but it can be the difference between success and failure.
Once you have your specific summer plan in place, use the remainder of your summer to set a course of goals beginning in the fall. Maybe they’ll be similar to what they are now or maybe they’ll be entirely different. In either case, they need to be realistic, manageable and enjoyable. The more thorough and consistent you are in your reflections, the more likely your goals will meet these three criteria and the more likely you’ll succeed in achieving them.
Just as vacation is a chance to break out of the mundane, recharge and renew, so should this time be for your fitness routine. Appreciate how enjoyable it is to move your body, make it stronger and savor really good, healthy food. Sample new things, rediscover old things, reflect on both, revamp your goals and renew your commitment to fitness.
This summer’s Small Step is less of a step than, actually, a pause. The step-by-step approach is good and it works. But sometimes it’s valuable to stop and re-evaluate before taking the next step. This assignment is all about taking advantage of the laid back mood of summer by checking in with the mind and soul to make sure they’re on board with the body on the journey to fitness.
If you’re new to the Small Steps series, you can read about the philosophy and strategies of the series here. Know the Small Steps strategies don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. So, you can begin the series with this post, continue throughout the rest of the year and pick up what you missed next year.