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. The oppressive weather, vacations, kids at home and the endless array of picnics brimming with food and drink knock us off familiar routines and can distract, tempt and derail the most avid exercisers and healthy eaters. Now is the time to reflect on what is and is not working for you, revamp your goals to get you through the summer, and renew your commitment to a fitter you so that you’re off and running when September brings normalcy back into your life.
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 readjust your expectations and goals before you give up so you can give yourself a fighting chance to succeed.
If you aren’t already keeping an exercise and food journal, now is a good time to start. It can be treated solely as a log, listing the exercise done and food eaten on a daily basis. Studies have shown that journals help keep dieters and novice exercisers on track because they force you to stay accountable to yourself. If you know that you’re going to be writing it down, you’re less likely to raid the fridge at 10pm or skip an exercise class.
However, I recommend going beyond a log and make it more of a journal. Record thoughts, emotions and reflections along with logging activity and diet. You can use this 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. This approach turns what can be the drudgery of keeping a log into more of a diary that has a positive vibe, making the process more personal. It also creates a historical record of your fitness journey. Imagine how inspiring it would 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 knowledge you’ve gained from your reflections to set some short-term exercise and diet goals to get you through the summer. To do this in a meaningful way, 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 a valid deterrent. We all need to plan for that and choose either lower intensity exercise or indoor and 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 your children in your healthy habits, pre-determining what and how much you will consume at the neighborhood block party and researching what you can do for exercise and eating healthy 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 next two months of journaling and reflection to set a course of goals beginning in the fall. Maybe they will 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 you are in your reflections, the more likely they are to meet those three criteria and, therefore, the more achievable the goals will be for you.
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 a moment, look at the big picture and re-evaluate before taking the next step. This step is all about taking advantage of the laid back mood of summer by checking in with the mind and soul to make sure they are 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.
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.