We’ve all been there. Cruising along with our fitness or nutrition goals, hitting our milestones, and feeling unstoppable through the early part of the year. Fast-forward a few months, and our momentum and desire to stick to our plan seems to be fading.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it means you have entered what I refer to as the ‘goal-gauntlet.’ A psychological obstacle course of tests, challenges, and temptations.
As is the case with any obstacle course, having good technique helps. Fortunately, there is a simple yet powerful way to outmaneuver the goal-gauntlet, known as ‘contrasting.’ Contrasting is the process of comparing a goal with a temptation to see which one shines brightest.
Here is how it works:
Step 1: Commit
First, make sure you are serious about your goal(s). There is no point going through this process if you are not. Commit to the mindset that you will achieve your resolution. You may feel some doubt, which is okay. Think of doubt as a subconscious signal indicating the importance of the task ahead. Instead of worrying about what may come, prepare for it.
Step 2: Contextualize
When a temptation arrives, pause and observe the test in front of you. This is the most critical point, do not ignore it. Ask yourself a few questions and answer them at that moment. What is my attraction to this temptation? Or why am I feeling this negative emotion? Have I been here before? What was the outcome last time? By objectively focusing on the temptation or emotion, you reduce its power.
Step 3: Contrast
Now that you observed the temptation or negative emotion in front of you, contrast it with your goal. Ask yourself whether you desire the temptation more than you want to achieve your goal? The odds are, this temptation or negative emotion is something you have faced before, and you know the outcome if you chose to give in. Do not give in. Tell yourself, “I want my goal more.” Focus on your momentum and be proud of yourself for passing another obstacle in the goal-gauntlet.
Effective use of contrasting can take some practice. At first, it may seem like a lot to remember, but it is actually quite simple if you have committed to your goal and you choose to stay present when a new challenge arises.
Here are a few examples of contrasting in action.
Political unrest is overwhelming me, and I feel selfish for focusing on myself.
Commit: I have committed to cycling 5-days per week.
Contextualize: Fear and negativity will always be factors present in the world, whether I choose to exercise today or not.
Contrast: I will not allow these negative emotions to distract me from taking care of myself.
It’s too early in the morning to workout, and I want to stay in my warm bed.
Commit: I have committed to waking up at 5am so I can own my day.
Contextualize: My warm comfy bed will feel great tonight after a full day of sticking to my routine and executing my plan.
Contrast: I want my goal more than a few extra minutes in a warm bed.
It was a rough day at work, and I could really use some wine.
Commit: I have committed to no alcohol during the week.
Contextualize: I know that I have trouble sleeping and will skip my morning jog if I drink in the evening.
Contrast: I want my goal more than a 45-minute buzz that will keep me up at night and give me a headache in the morning.
I keep eating my kid’s leftovers at dinner.
Commit: I have committed to losing 5 lbs.
Contextualize: I know what nuggets and fries taste like.
Contrast: I want to see a drop on the scale this week more than a few bites of yummy kid food.
Achieving a nutrition or fitness goal is not easy, and we are all human, so there will be setbacks. Do not beat yourself up if you give in a few times. Allowing a slip here and there does not erase your prior victories. If you chose a temptation over your goal, there must have been a reason. Instead of getting down on yourself, ask yourself why you made the decision you did. Perhaps, you just needed the self-care? That is okay. You can quickly regain your momentum. Put one favorable decision in motion, followed by another, and there you have it–your momentum has returned. However, if you find yourself in a stalemate of success and setbacks over a two week period, it may be time to recommit to your goal and adjust your stratedgy.
So when the next obstacle arrives, remember: commit, contextualize, and contrast. Give your willpower the extra support it needs to outmaneuver the gauntlet and achieve your goals.