In middle school, I was a chubby kid with a bowl haircut.

And I danced ballet.

Think Pillsbury Dough Boy with chicken legs in black tights and a white t-shirt.

Yes, junior high was rough – so when high school came around, I decided to rectify things by playing football. Frankly, the ballet to football transition wasn’t much smoother. I was the weakest kid on the team and I had no concept of fitness, health, or strength.

So think Pillsbury Dough … benchwarmer.

She’s All That and a miracle machine.

I remember seeing the movie She’s All That about this same time, looking at Paul Walker during a beach scene, and thinking “He seems like a normal looking guy. Why can’t my body just look like his?”  Paul was no Arnold, but he had defined abs and solid arms, and seemed sure to get the girl.

I had zero clue how much work it took to look like Paul Walker, so I did what many people do in hopes of conjuring that magic for an anticipated family vacation:

I purchased an Ab-Roller for $19.99 at a local Walgreens.

I swear, my abs felt stronger as I was leaving the store and I was sure I would soon be living the dream. However, when my family rolled into Fort Lauderdale, Florida in my parent’s purple mini van several weeks later, I stripped off my slightly oversize t-shirt and had to admit that I had wasted $20 and several intense 11-minute ab-rolling sessions.

No defined abs. No solid arms. No girls.

I was nowhere near Paul Walker. Instead, I was still channeling my inner Dough Boy.

Remember where you’ve been; Appreciate where you are.

Today, after years of learning to live a holistically healthy life, my new friends have trouble imagining a pudgy version of me. I’m strong, lean, and healthy, and I look a heck of a lot better than Walker did in She’s All That!

My wife, Whitney and I living a dream in Thailand this past November.

My wife, Whitney and I living a dream in Thailand this past November.

But I tell you that story to encourage you. No matter where you are now…

–       If you avoid sweating at all costs;

–       If you’ve fallen off more late-night TV fitness bandwagons than you can count; or,

–       If you’ve got a good routine going and you’re looking to take it to the next level…

I believe this series will help you! We’ll lay a foundation of diet and exercise basics and help you understand how to achieve your goals via lifestyle changes instead of gimmicks and fads.

However, simply telling you how to work out is not enough!

Instead, we absolutely must start by developing a proper mindset to ensure you achieve lasting success.  So take stock of where you are right now and forget about miracle machines and money back guarantees.

Let’s talk about what it really takes to get in great shape!

One of the most popular perennial New Year’s resolutions is “get in shape.” As someone who spends time in the gym regularly, I can vouch for the influx of people each January. Most of them disappear after only a few weeks.

Have you ever wondered why so many people end up re-setting this same resolution year after year?

It’s not for lack of knowledge. Google will return more info on healthy eating, physical fitness, weight training, and cardiovascular exercise in 0.0003 seconds than you can read in your entire lifetime.

It’s also not for lack of resources. I know that gym memberships and home workout equipment can be expensive. However, as you read this post, there is probably enough space within five feet of where you’re sitting for a wide array of calisthenics (e.g., push-ups, sit-ups, etc…).

In fact, the answer is simple: People fail to “get in shape” repeatedly because they never begin with realistic expectations.

“All is well that ends well. No! All is well that begins well.”

– John Maxwell

If you want to succeed, start with the right expectations!

As demonstrated by my story, one of the biggest reasons I failed at my She’s All That fitness goal was because I had unrealistic and uninformed expectations about the results I wanted to achieve and what it would take to achieve them.

Consequently, disappointment and frustration were inevitable.

If you’ve ever resolved to get in shape, chances are you can relate.

Before you decide that you want to look like Hugh Jackman in Wolverine or become the next Jillian Micheals, it’s critical to establish appropriate expectations.  You are currently at a point of equilibrium somewhere along your body’s individual fitness spectrum.

That equilibrium represents the kind and amount of food you eat, and the kind and amount of work you do.

The spectrum ranges from only leaving your house via forklift to super you.

It takes significant work or neglect to get to either end of the spectrum. The goal is to reset that equilibrium at a healthy and sustainable point closer to super you. However, you must also take reality into account.

For example, a 23-year-old college student might be able to eat pizza and Bon-Bons at midnight and still maintain a six-pack.  If you’re 45, you probably can’t. Your body’s physiology has changed and, like it or not, you’re going to have to be a lot more disciplined in your eating habits than a college student if you want to get in shape.

Time is also an issue. If you’re married or have kids, then your time is in high demand and exercise will necessarily factor into your priorities differently as compared to a single person.

Accept that your circumstances will present some challenges and inoculate yourself against failure and disappointment by accounting for those challenges in setting your expectations. You can still make changes to improve your health and fitness and reset your equilibrium!

Set your expectations by answering two simple questions.  

1. What do I want fitness to look like in my life?  

First, fitness is a journey, not a destination. It never ends. As a result, you must decide on the level of fitness you can sustain day in and day out with no set end point.

Miss this and you’ll flog yourself toward a target weight only to return to binge eating peanut M&M’s after you’ve achieved it. When summer comes around again, you’ll find yourself purchasing an ab-roller at Walgreen’s.

Fitness as a knee-jerk response or scale-based sprint never works.

You must think in terms of lifestyle change. Anything less and you will be disappointed.

2. Are my expectations congruent with my desires?

Once you’ve given some thought to what sustainable fitness looks like in your life, check it against your desires. If realistically, you’ve only got a total of two or three hours per week to exercise, you’re probably not going to maintain 4% body fat and bench press twice your weight.

In other words, you won’t be Hugh – but that’s ok.

You can make those few hours count. Exercise and a balanced diet will still improve your overall health and fitness, change your body composition, and positively impact your self-efficacy.

You can still reset your equilibrium.

At the end of the day.

In sum, fitness starts with developing realistic expectations, which requires that you consider your individual circumstances and willingness to embrace lifestyle changes. With realistic expectations in place, you then set about shifting your equilibrium toward super you.

Anybody can do it, starting any time! It’s never too late, and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve tried and failed in the past.

In the coming week, take some time to think about your expectations and answer the two questions above. Then join me again in a few weeks as we continue with a few more foundational principles.

Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a series co-authored by Denver-based transactional attorney, Chris Rhyme dedicated to helping real people with busy lives get in great shape. If you found this post helpful, be sure not to miss the others – subscribe to via the link in the upper right-hand corner!

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