by Aimee Wojtowecz
What do you want out of life? What are your big picture goals? More importantly, how do you intend to go about reaching them?
We all have wants. Some are very simple, such as wanting to lose ten pounds or wanting to be able to run 3 miles. While others, such as changing to a new career, are more complex. What’s interesting is that you can use the very same techniques to reach your goals no matter the scale, big or small.
Visualization is the technique of picturing a goal in your mind in detail so that you can manifest this change in your life. Maybe it sounds a little new agey? Maybe it sounds hard? Not really, it just takes a little time and a little patience. Visualizing your goals taps into your Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is a part of your brain that keeps you alive and sane by automating as much of your behavior as possible. Anything your brain does is saved through neural pathways, the most dominant and frequently used neural pathways aka your thoughts, get stored in your subconscious brain for faster access.
“The Reticular Activating System just reinforces what’s in your subconscious. So if your thought (belief) in a neural pathway is “I don’t like exercise”, guess what: You’ll battle to get into a fitness routine. Because your RAS will only filter out information that will make you avoid exercise at all costs. To the point where it will block information about any fitness successes, you might achieve.” (https://lifexchangesolutions.com/reticular-activating-system/)
One thing to know about your neural pathways and RAS: It’s an automatic process that cannot distinguish between good and bad behavior. Your RAS does not care whether getting fit is good or bad for you. It only automates what’s in your neural pathways.
By following these five simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to rebooting your RAS and reaching your goals.
Step 1: Engage Fully in the Vision
You absolutely must put yourself into the visualization as fully as you possibly can, fill in all the details. Use all your senses and emotions to experience this vision in a way that is real to you. There can be no holding back here.
Step 2: Experience Different Viewpoints
What does this visualization feel like to you? Experience it first as yourself so that you can connect emotions to actions. You want to feel every part of it. Now, step back and experience it again as if you’re watching yourself succeed from outside of yourself, like watching a movie. Why? This helps you to see details you might miss otherwise.
Step 3: Live the Success
When you’re done with the visualization, it’s time to live the part. Become the person you saw at the end of the vision. How does that person move? Think? Act? What is their daily routine like? How can you implement this in your current lifestyle?
Step 4: Reinforce the Message
Visualization needs back-up to be successful. The world is full of negative energy, sometimes finding root in your own mind. Keep your self-talk positive, use affirmations, and look for ways to constantly reinforce the vision in your mind without tearing it down.
Step 5: Make the Vision Tangible in a Way You can See it
Creating a dream board or collage will set out your visualization in a place where you are constantly reminded of the experience. Seeing it over and over will also reinforce your goals and strengthen your resolve. Not into crafting? Write it down on post-it notes and stick them to your bathroom mirror, in your car, at your desk, anywhere that you will be able to look at them several times a day.
By following these steps, you’ll find your goals and dreams becoming more and more solid. Of course, you’re going to have to put in the work to achieve what you want. However, by using visualization and rewiring your RAS, you’ll have a clear path of where you’re going and how to get there.
by Michael Plank
What does learning feel like?
We all know what it is. We all know that it has to happen. But we don’t always map what that process looks like. At our conference this past weekend, I saw it drawn out visually and it was super helpful for me.
Learning, it turns out, is not a straight line. We don’t just know a little more each day until we have mastered the subject. On the contrary, something worth learning takes us down into The Learning Pit. Learning new things – like a new language, or musical instrument, or gardening, or cooking… or CrossFit – involves confusion, frustration, failure, and stalled progress that feels like hitting a wall.
And then it involves dusting yourself off and trying again; and asking for help from an instructor or coach or mentor; and then some clarity; and then excitement, and then finally the acquisition of a brand new skill!
THIS IS HOW LEARNING WORKS. Any skill you can think of that’s impressive always has a learning pit. In fact, the speaker this weekend pointed out that if you can jump over the pit, you probably didn’t actually learn that much. So why does this matter?
Because it means that in your training journey, when you get confused and frustrated, when you miss goals and when your progress stalls, it’s NORMAL. It’s a part of the process. It’s not a sign that you’re failing, it’s a sign that you’re learning. And if you’re learning, you’re growing. And growth, after all, is what progress is all about. Physical progress is why most of us start, but that’s not always completely within our control – there are injuries and accidents, there’s aging and disease – but as long as our minds work, we can learn, and as long as we can learn, we can grow.
by Michael Plank
Buckle in, friends. This is going to be a heavier post than usual.
Yesterday 19 children and 2 teachers were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Like so many, I’m reeling. Like so many, I’m heartbroken. Like so many, I’m not surprised that it happened again. Nor am I surprised to see the familiar talking points that always come out after these things: more background checks, more talk about mental health; train and arm teachers; “thoughts and prayers.”
And I always wish I could do more. And like so many, I vote, and I make donations. But there’s another thing we do too. We build community.
Community is one of our Core Values. Community means that we care about building a community of mutual respect, meaning and belonging where you have a place that you are welcomed and valued; one that makes your life better. And so, like Cheers, we work to build a place where everyone knows your name. We build that on a platform of fitness and nutrition coaching, where we help you do hard things and build a culture that supports you while you do that.
But it’s even bigger than that.
Because I don’t know what the answer is to the plague of mass shootings in our country. I don’t know the answer to injustice and oppression and dehumanization. But I do know that all those things can fester and grow in darkness and isolation. They grow when they’re unchecked and secret and anonymous. They grow when they’re never confronted with diversity of thought or experience.
And I know that real community – not just a collection of people, but people who intentionally live life with each other – makes the world better. When you’ve got a Republican cheering for a Democrat to get that last burpee in before the buzzer, or a Black Lives Matter volunteer going to run the final 400 meters alongside a conservative, evangelical Christian, what you have is a group of people who know that it’s not just Us vs. Them, because you know people who are different than you, and you care about them, and they care about you.
And I also know that in real community, when someone starts to stray off course – when they’re so hurt that they get bitter or vengeful or start to veer into dangerous territory – because the community cares about them, the community helps to check them. They offer accountability. They offer sounding boards. They offer help and resources.
I know that being in community makes people better. Not just with blood pressure or cholesterol or muscle mass. Not even just with confidence or mental health. Community helps people be better citizens, better neighbors, better human beings. I know that in these insane times of isolation and division, being in community is a bright spot on dark days.
Obviously, we care about fitness and nutrition and coaching and goals and physical health. But the reason we’re in business at all, the reason that we get up each morning and keep working at this, is because we are bold enough to believe that building communities of belonging make the world a kinder, safer, more beautiful place to live.
Vote. Donate to places that do important work. Find places that will love you and help you grow. And then go love others and help them grow too.
by Michael Plank
I’ve been working out for 20 years. For a long time I thought there would come a day when I would be totally motivated and engaged for every workout, every day, without exception.
Some days, even now, I am just. not. into. it.
So what’s a person to do? Skipping is definitely an option, but you can’t expect to keep getting results if you skip every time you’re not feeling it. So never fear! There IS a workout you can do. It will help you improve balance, flexibility, body awareness and control, shoulder strength, and core strength. You don’t need equipment. You probably don’t even need to change clothes. And it’s not physically demanding enough to make you feel like it’s a whole freaking thing.
SLIPS is an acronym from the gymnastics world. It stands for Scales, L-sits, Inversions, Planks, and Stretching.
Scales look super boring, and yet are amazing at improving balance (if they’re easy to do, try closing your eyes). L-sits are incredible for building core strength (they’re very advanced though, so we often sub in hollow variations). Inversions include the downward dog pose, wall walks, piked handstand holds, handstsands against a wall, and freestanding handstands. They build shoulder strength and help improve your proprioception (your body’s awareness of itself in space) by being upside-down. Planks are great for core strength too, and Stretching is always good (the wall straddle stretch is my personal favorite for SLIPS).
There are countless ways to work on these, but my favorite is 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of transition for several rounds. I like to do:
-30s front-to-back scale (left leg)
-30s front-to-back scale (right leg)
-30s accumulate max L-sit/hollow
-30s accumulate max inversion hold
-30s accumulate max plank hold (squeeze core muscles at 10/10 for added intensity)
-30s wall straddle stretch
In and out in 15-25 minutes. No warmup necessary. Will absolutely make you a better athlete. And you might not even break a sweat.
by Michael Plank
Want to be leaner? Stronger? Faster? Want to have more discipline? More motivation? Want to have an easier time with nutrition? Want to live longer? Be mentally sharper? Improve your memory and productivity? Want to be more injury-resistant?
Go to sleep.
Why do we need to sleep? It’s up for debate. But it’s clear that amazing things happen when we do sleep: physical recovery, memory consolidation, hormone regulation, and all kinds of other things. Good, quality sleep is definitively linked to making you more attuned to hunger cues, to improving the effects of any efforts at body composition change – whether gaining muscle or losing body fat – to longevity, and to mental acuity.
And culturally, our sleep is garbage. Which means we’re missing out in a big way. Things like blue light, alcohol, caffeine, systemic stress, a 24-hour economy, and hustle culture are making it so that we sleep less and less, and more poorly than ever.
In a perfect world, you’d get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Not 6. Not 4. You would fall asleep easily and wake up refreshed. But most of us don’t live in a perfect world. So how do you go about changing your sleep?
Like everything else we talk about, you do it slowly, with habits.
It’s widely agreed that good “sleep hygiene” (that is, the stuff you do that sets you up for good sleep) includes the following, at a minimum:
- A consistent bedtime
- Daily physical activity and time outdoors
- Cool nighttime temperature in your bedroom
- A dark bedroom (without screens, lamps, or LED indicator lights)
- A 1-2+ hour break from screens before sleep
- Abstaining from caffeine for 8+ hours before bedtime
- Abstaining from alcohol or heavy meals late in the evening
That’s a lot. So if your sleep quality is not what you’d like it to be and you want to work on improving it, we recommend the same approach that we do with fitness coaching or nutrition coaching: start small (we call this habit coaching).
Take a look at that list of 7 things and see if you can find the lowest-hanging fruit. What’s the one thing on that list that seems easy; that you’re at least 80% confident you can pull off at least 5 days a week? Start with that. Maybe it’s turning down the thermostat at night. Maybe it’s putting a bedtime reminder on your phone. Pick one thing and then do it for a month. When it’s easy and just part of your norm, go back to the list and pick a second thing that seems easy. The rule is, you should be 8/10 confident that you can do it and it’ll be easy. Does everything left on the list seem hard? That’s ok. Just stick with what’s easy for a little longer. Little by little, these habits will build on each other and can improve things.
And look, some people will just always have an easier time sleeping than others; just like some people build muscle more easily or are naturally leaner or recover more quickly. But the goal here isn’t to WIN SLEEP QUALITY! It’s just to improve it so that we can improve our health and well-being.
A disclaimer though: if you haven’t worked out in years and then you start working out, you’ll be sore. Like, really sore. You’ll actually have a harder time moving for a couple of days than you did before you started. That doesn’t mean that exercise is wrong or bad, it just means that there’s an unpleasant adjustment period. The same is true with changing sleep routines. If you’re used to taking Nyquil and scrolling on your phone while you listen to the TV until you fall asleep, changing that may well have an unpleasant adjustment period. That doesn’t mean that your new sleep routine is wrong or bad. But it can take some time.
But it’s worth it. Because sleep is one of the single most powerful tools we have to improve our health and well-being. It’s massively underrated, massively effective, it will help you achieve your goals way faster, and literally all you have to do is lie down and close your eyes.
(A great resource is http://www.sleepfoundation.org. And for parents of young children, check out https://www.babysleepscience.com/resource-blog)
by Michael Plank
We’ve written about this before and we’ll write about it again because dang, is it hard to wait for stuff these days. You can get same day delivery on online orders. You can touch your phone screen in the right places and groceries or dinner shows up at your doorstep. You can get almost anything you want at almost any time you want it.
But not everything.
And one of those things is fitness. Fitness takes time. There’s no hack or shortcut or drug. I can’t find who said it, but even things like anabolic steroids – which absolutely give a competitive edge – “won’t turn a chihuahua into a pitbull.” Getting stronger, faster, healthier, are all things that take time. But there is a magic bullet that works like a dream. In fact, it’s the single most effective thing we’ve ever encountered and that’s been affirmed by study after study, coach after coach, superstar after superstar. The secret to all your fitness dreams is…
That’s it. It’s showing up week after week, month after month, year after year. One of my mentors told me once “Consistent mediocrity beats inconsistent excellence every time.”
That’s not to say that progress is linear (it’s not), or that the metrics you use to determine success won’t change (they will). It is to say that the most effective thing you can do to get better – whatever better means for you – is to just keep going. It may not always be easy, but it’s simple. And when it’s not easy? That’s why you have coaches, and accountability, and relationships, and friends, and all those things that we build in at UPCF to make showing up as easy as possible. Because if you just keep showing up, the rest will come.