Congratulations! You set a new personal record! You've deadlifted more weight, banged out more push ups, touched your toes while stretching for the first time, had to use a tighter belt loop, or perhaps finally saw the number you're aiming for on the scale.
That's the million dollar, feeling awesome, high five celebrating question.
Can you stop?
Do you get to go back to eating the foods you actually enjoy, or take part in those activities you had to leave by the wayside to make up for your gym time?
Do you have to keep doing this for ever and ever?
No you don't have to do this for ever and ever, but if you return to doing what you did before reaching those personal records, you will revert to the standards set by your previous life style.
This is the yo yo life cycle of most people's health journey. A bunch of work is put into reaching new goals and building a new you, and many of us fall of a cliff once those goals are reached. Most of us fall of that cliff before even reaching those goals. How many times have you seen or heard of a friend or family member reaching a target weight, falling off some form of wagon and putting on weight again? On the flip side, how often have you seen or heard of a family member reaching their target weight and then not being satisfied and forcing themselves to keep pushing on?
There are countless magazines, health articles, workout tips, life hacks, and products designed to help you ascend to new heights.
How come there aren't any telling you how to stay there?
Here's my theory:
It's because new heights aren't the sign of true progress we believe them to be. New records and personal bests FEEL awesome, and are a testament to how hard and how consistently you've been working. They represent the peak of your achievements and fill the void of satisfaction often missing from the drudgery of day to day life. However, they are often not regularly repeatable. Yes you can work to improve your best, we will address that in a second. What I mean is setting a personal record often requires everything to go right.
Look at Olympic athletes: Michael Phelps set a number of records while competing in the Olympics. How often did he meet or exceed his record in subsequent competitions? Not only that, but he also trained everyday leading up to the Olympics. How often do you think he was recreating record times on a random Wednesday practice?
I believe true progress can be seen by looking at our minimum standard, not our peak best. This is also why day to day progress goes virtually unnoticed, and you never seem to notice feeling better the day of or after. Doing something once or for the first time is not the point you've reached your goal. You've reached your goal when the prospect of NOT doing your new thing becomes more awkward or difficult than how you use to do things.
This means that stepping on the scale and seeing the weight you're aiming for is not when you've reached your goal. You've reached your goal when you don't have to step on the scale to see if you're at your target weight, because it no longer takes conscious effort to be there. You've reached your goal when the way you've chosen to exercise and how you eat become more of a priority than the new number on a scale.
Priorities are dictated by your habits. Not your words. Not your chosen actions. The things in your daily, weekly, monthly, routine that you do without thinking. That's what your true priorities are. Where you are comfortable. What you call normal. In essence, progress means creating a new normal. Creating a new level of standard that you can't live without.
Elevating our minimum level of standard is how you find the ever elusive maintenance stage. Look to mark off standard raising moments and celebrate them just as hard as your peak performance.
Did you touch your toes in your warm up for the first time? Great! Now you're not allowed to be too tight to touch your toes again.
Did you just eat 1,500 calories every day last week and only notice when you backlogged your tracking journal? Great! You no longer need to track your calorie goal every day or week!"
Did you just bang out 5 pushups? Great! Now you're not allowed to bang out less then 5 pushups.
These are just a couple examples. In order to make this kind of goal setting work for you, you must actively look for opportunities to start a new normal, and pay attention to your first times and sudden moments of ease.