This sign welcomed me at the gym today:
Not seeing the results you expected?
Visit the training desk to set up your personal training session now!
It prompted me to scan the mid-morning crowd with a curious eye, wondering how many of them were seeing the results in the gym that they anticipated when they first signed their contracts. I suspect that many of them, if asked, would express disappointment with their progress as measured against their initial expectations.
Pulling on my background with personal training and my own countless hours spent in the gym, I considered the most common reasons that people don’t see the fitness results that they expect when they first vow to get in shape. And then, like so often happens, I realized that these explanations are not limited to the gym.
These are the reasons that any of us fail to see the expected results in all areas of our lives – work, relationships, finances, education and yes, fitness:
You’re Not Working as Hard as You Think You Are
I often see the same people on the stationary bikes or the treadmills every time I enter the fitness center. They have the resistance and the speed set at some reasonable number and they dutifully put in their sixty minutes of daily exercise. I’m sure they feel like they’re working hard. The heart rates are elevated, the sweat is evident and there is probably some soreness the next day. The brutal truth is that this kind of steady-state cardio is beneficial for maintaining cardiovascular fitness and not much else.
It’s simply not hard enough.
We ALL have a natural tendency to stay within our comfort zones. When discomfort rises, we often respond by backing off. Which we then justify with our internal narrative –
“I’ll do more after this tough period of work is over.”
“This is all that I am capable of.”
“It feels difficult, so it must be my edge.”
“I need to play it safe so that I don’t get hurt.”
And by doing so, we’re robbing ourselves of the potential results.
There are some clues to indicate when you ARE working hard enough – You’ll have doubts in your ability to reach your stated goals. There will be times where you feel as though it’s impossible and it will rarely feel easy (and when it does, it’s swiftly followed by a humbling reminder that you still have a way to go). You will see progress and change; what was once difficult will begin to seem very doable. When you reach a goal or even when you put in the time, you will feel a sense of accomplishment or pride, knowing that you pushed yourself. There may be a sense of risk, since reward rarely travels alone. And finally, when you’re working hard enough, you will be uncomfortable.
You’re Working On the Wrong Thing
I’m frequently approached by women who want my advice on how to tone up. They are faithful to their Zumba classes or elliptical machines but have become frustrated with a plateau in their pants size. When I mention the addition of free weights or kettle bells, the response is often an immediate dismissal, “Oh, I don’t want to get too muscular.” And then they return to the efforts that are failing to deliver the desired results.
I see this dynamic often in those I work with following a divorce from a difficult person (I was also guilty of this myself!!). They are often frustrated with their ex’s lack of response to parenting responsibilities or inability to act like a decent human being. They funnel their energy into labeling their ex or trying to understand the motivations and the reasoning behind the actions. They are certainly working hard. But nothing seems to change.
Because they are working on the wrong thing.
It is SO easy to leap to a potential path once a problem or need has been identified. And then, we get so busy… well, being busy, that we neglect to reevaluate our efforts to see if they are having the intended effects.
Take the time to ensure that the path you’re slogging along actually leads to your intended destination.
You’re Undermining Your Efforts
“I don’t get it,” my neighbor said to me. “I run every day. I lift weights three times a week. But still, I’m getting fatter with every year.”
“What’s your diet like?” I inquired.
The resulting blush told me all that I needed to know.
Sometimes, we are working hard enough and on the right things, but we’re neglecting something else. And any attempt to fill a cracked bucket will always lead to frustration and subpar results.
I’m very skilled at doing this at work when I feel stressed and overwhelmed. When the to-do lists feel daunting and I’m barely keeping my head above water, I have a tendency to increase my hours spent working.
Which inevitably leads to a startling drop in efficiency (and agreeableness).
In those moments, I would be much better served by taking a break and taking care of myself before putting more effort into the work.
It can be difficult to recognize when you’re undermining your own efforts. We can get strangely defensive and territorial over these adopted behaviors. It’s worth the momentary discomfort or embarrassment though if you want to ensure that your efforts aren’t in vain.
Your Expectations Are Unrealistic
“Get a Bikini Body in 20 Days!!!” the magazine practically screamed at me in the check-out line. First of all, what exactly IS a “bikini body?” A body that is currently wearing two pieces of fabric designed for water-based recreation? Hmm. Doesn’t seem like that would take more than 20 seconds to achieve. I’m assuming that the magazine was claiming that the reader could look like the size-two model in under three weeks. Which unless the customer is already a size-two model, is practically impossible.
Whether from the focus on the extremes from the media, the outrageous claims of advertising or the Cliff Notes version of a struggle from a friend, we often possess idealistic or romanticized expectations. And if you’re starting with an unattainable goal, you’re pretty much guaranteed to never see the expected results.
It can be difficult to determine the difference between lofty expectations and implausible expectations. Sometimes it means that we have to first face some uncomfortable truths about ourselves or our available resources.
You Need Outside Assistance or Accountability
There is a reason the personal training area of my gym is frequently occupied – we can all benefit from a little professional help sometimes. These trainers introduce people to new ideas and methods, cheer on the tired and unmotivated and hold their clients accountable for their progress. It’s no surprise that this population often shows the greatest growth within the entire gym.
I know I have a virulent case of the “I can do it myselfs!” And I know I’m not alone. we often perceive asking for help as a weakness, a sign of giving up. Yet sometimes a little shove or shout of encouragement is exactly what we need in order to scheme the expected results.
You’re Taking the Short View of a Longer Process
“How long have you been doing yoga?” the young man asked from the mat next to me after class.
My eyes looked to ceiling as I mentally retraced my yoga journey, which began with videotapes in my childhood bedroom. “About twenty-six years,” I finally concluded.
“Wow!” he replied, a bit of a relieved look on his face. It seemed that he was expecting to master the practice (a bit of an oxymoron there, huh?) after a few short months and this response gave him permission to take more time to learn the nuances of the poses.
It’s frustrating when you feel like you should be at the finish line and yet it remains out of reach. I felt this acutely when my divorce was finalized. I had assumed that the emotional process would end when the legal one did. (Spoiler alert – it didn’t.)
When you don’t see the expected results, look instead for signs that you’re making progress towards the desired outcome. Most things in life require baby steps. You’ll get there; it’s just going to take a little longer than you may have planned. And you know what? That’s completely okay:)