Making A Permanent Lifestyle Change


By Alex Cromartie, CPT

People often ask me the “secret” to meeting their fitness goals. How to stick to a training program long enough to see the positive difference it can, and will make in their life. The answer is quite simple, so simple in fact that it is usually (and disastrously) overlooked. Before I explain it to you though, let me tell you a bit about myself, and how I stumbled upon finding it.

Up until I was age 32 I had seen the inside of a gym fewer than 10 times in my life, and had probably worked out in one fewer times than that! I have always had a tall, skinny body type, so I never really put on much body fat. At the same time, I was always nervous when it was time to take my shirt off, because it then became clear to others how out of shape I was. I wasn’t too worried about it though. I had always focused my life on the music/recording industry, and exercise and nutrition were the last thing on my mind. Instead, I lived a miserable cycle of chain smoking, partying and drinking at night, and spending the next morning recovering with the aid of sugar, caffeine, and as many 5 hour energy boosters as I could find. I always knew I had an addictive personality and that getting in the habit of living this kind of lifestyle was probably not a good idea. But there was just something about seeing how far I could push myself, always wanting, always trying to achieve some sort of elusive state.

When I was 32 my first son was born. Funny how children change your perspective on things. I knew my lifestyle wasn’t fun for me anymore, and that I needed to take control of my life. I decided that I was going to workout 3 times a week to show myself and others that I had some self control. At first, it was just three or four simple bodyweight exercises. But over a the next few weeks, I quickly fell in love with exercise and never looked back. After a couple weeks of this routine, the realization hit me that there was no way that I could smoke and drink the way I wanted to AND exercise the way I wanted to. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be the exercise. Not only was it making me feel better, but I had made the decision that I was going to live a healthier lifestyle and would do what I had to do to make that happen. Somehow I meant it this time. I knew I REALY meant it.

In addition to exercise, I also credit the ideas of Eckhart Tolle with aiding me in making the decision to make a lifestyle change. His books are definitely worth a read. Two of his (and also most spiritual traditions’) very powerful ideas are about acceptance of one’s situation and also the transmutation of pain into joy. By accepting and refocusing my addictive (and slightly obsessive) personality into one that is obsessed with positive HEALTHY things, I can use that powerful energy to create positive situations in my life, instead of the unhealthy ones I had been creating. Over the years I’ve learned that the drive in my personality that is always wanting more excitement, more fun, and more pleasure is a powerful force. I truly believe that one day scientists will identify a gene that lends itself to addictive, or thrill seeking behavior. From a traditional perspective, this may seem like a negative trait. But it isn’t, its simply the way I am. By using the proper habit forming techniques, I have refocused that SAME energy into a life-affirming positive expression, instead of the self-destructive one it had been my entire adult life.

Persistence is an amazing thing. I am fascinated with the process the body goes through within the first 6 weeks of training as the brain creates new neuro-pathways to the muscles being worked. I often remind clients of the simple truth that, particularly in the first few weeks of training, you are training your brain in addition to your muscles. This is true in many senses, including that of habit forming. But it takes a few weeks to form a habit, and efforts to begin a training program are often thwarted due to the initial discomfort exercise can cause the uninitiated. The truth is though, that half-heartedness won’t usually cut it. Occasional, or unscheduled exercise will develop no habits at all! To properly train your brain you need regular, scheduled exercise. This is the difference between just exercising, and training.

Here is how to develop the habits you need to make a permanent lifestyle change and begin your training. Pick a realistic number of days a week that you will commit to exercising. DON’T overcommit because for the habit to form, you must meet your commitment each week. In the beginning, develop one routine that you will go through each exercise session. It will certainly have to be modified in the future, but for now, stick to one routine to simplify things. If three sets of crunches, three sets of modified push-ups, and twenty minutes of interval jogging are all that’s realistic, then start there! Slowly, your body will WANT more exercise and you’ll figure out new exercises to add to your routine. Add or replace exercises whenever you feel comfortable, but not in the middle of the week. Shuffling around which days you train to accommodate your schedule is fine, but stick to the number of days you choose. Get them in no matter what. Of course there are events such as a death in the family that can (and should) temporarily halt your progress. But the chance of something this drastic happening in the first two months of your training is very unlikely. Weekends, vacations, work, being exhausted, and even family-time can’t be allowed to get in the way. People often have a tendency to skip training for these reasons, but manage to find time to slip in an hour of television… Remember, just like those little airplane oxygen masks, you can’t take care of the ones you love without first taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfishness, but selflessness. Remember that during these first two crucial months. Stay strong!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s