The most annoying thing about doing something new, is that you can’t do it straight away. It’s a bit like when you decide you want to learn French. You trot along to your evening class, and, in the first class, learn to ask for a ham sandwich and an Orangina. When you think about it, you feel slightly miffed that you won’t be chatting away about Satre over a cafe au lait with a dark, handsome monsieur de mystery while on a weekend in Paris. Or, you fancy learning to tap dance. Off you go, with your new shoes and an image of youself in a leotard, fishnets and a bowler hat, giving it some to ‘All That Jazz’ whereas the reality is you spend two hours in a draughty church hall wondered how it is you don’t really know your left from your right.
The point is, most people who are good at things, are not good at them straight away. People able to glide around a ballroom doing a pretty accomplished waltz don’t manage it after the first lesson. People don’t get up on a horse and take off across a five-footer at Horse of the Year. And fitness is very much the same, as I am quickly learning (the only thing I am quickly learning). And, actually, losing weight is also the same. Anyone who’s done a bit of a yoyo dieting knows that you are very good for a month, lose a bit and are puzzled as to how you still have such a long way to go. Haven’t you already done the hard bit? Hasn’t it already gone on long enough?
And what happens when you can’t tap dance as well as you’d like to, or lost all the weight in one go? You chuck it in as a bad job – too hard, too much committment, not progressing quickly enough.
In my real life, I work in a consultancy that specialises in developing behaviour change solutions, primarily in healthcare, to help people cope better with their long-term conditions. One technique which seems to be important (and I’m not a psychologist, to apologies to all psychs if I get this hilarously wrong) is goal setting in the right way. It’s a bit like setting SMART objectives at work – your goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Which is a fancy-dan way of saying that there are good ways to set goals which not only make them feel within your grasp, but also help you track your progress.
So – take the example of ‘I want to be fitter’ – you have nothing to benchmark this against, no way of showing how you’re doing, no deadlines. So perhaps, you could say ‘I want to be able to run 5k in under 40 minutes, in 12 weeks. Then, take that ultimate goal and break it down even further. So, ‘this week, I want to be able to run for 1 minute, walk for 2 minutes, 10 times.’ This way, you can track your progress and feel like you’re achieving something tangible. Instead of ‘I want to be a size 10 this year’ say ‘this week, I want to go to the gym twice and lose at least 1lb.’
There is a reason I am particularly interested in goal setting and goal tracking this week. I have, moved out of beginners into level 2 in crossfit, and completed my first three classes – one a week. After each class I feel like I’ve been hit by a lorry, but I’m taking that to mean that I’ve tried quite hard. What is funny about being in level 2 is that you can be in a class with someone who’s been doing it a while, or who, for example, is a trapeze artist and so has phenomenal upper body strength. In some ways it is impossible to avoid comparing yourself unfavourably, in terms of what you can do versus what everyone else can do – weights being lifted, depth of squat, technique, ability to lift your toes to the bar etc. In some ways though, it’s inspiring to see what other people can do, especially other women. Having done my third class and feeling slightly less like a weakling, I thought it would be useful to remind myself how much more I can do than I used to be able to do. Admittedly starting from a low base. I can lift more, more often. I can squat deeper (if not as deep as I should). I can run round the block. I can hang off a bar (even if I can’t lift myself while on it). So, it’s about achievable goals, that stretch you and show you that you can do more than you think you can. But it’s a journey – you don’t learn to waltz in ten minutes, or learn to drive in one lesson. You don’t get fit and strong in three classes. But you can be fitter and stronger than you were, and as long as you always push yourself to be fitter and stronger than you were, that’s all that matters.