New Years has just rolled around and inevitably there is going to be a lot more gym memberships as people try to make and keep the commitment to get in shape. Given the sheer amount of diet books and advice in fitness magazines, getting in shape is important to a lot of people. But despite this obesity rates continue to rise, more junk food is consumed and people are sleeping less.
The world doesn’t need a new dieting plan, fitness tool or magic supplement. These things are important, but for the majority of people getting in shape will have the same core advice: eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep. Focusing on whether to take more fish oils or drink asparagus juice is like trying to paint a house before you’ve built the walls.
I believe that if you take the right approach and the right attitude you can get in shape and become a healthier person. Getting in shape might not be quick and easy, but if go about it right you can increase your energy, look better and live longer.
I am a very health conscious person. I exercise at least 6-8 hours per week. I follow a strict vegetarian diet with virtually no animal products and I almost always get between 7-8 hours of sleep.
A few weeks ago I got a chance to test my physical fitness in a few key exercises. I managed to do 85 consecutive push ups, 24 consecutive chin ups and 150 consecutive sit ups (although I have done over 200 other times). Although I didn’t test my endurance at this time I have run as far as a half-marathon in one go.
All of these improvements have really been made over the past few years. I used to exercise a lot less, eat a lot more junk and was in much poorer shape. Here is what I feel are the keys to getting yourself in shape.
Start With Habits
I don’t think most people want to make fitness their life. They want to be fit to enjoy life, but they have other things they want to focus on. Fitness is just one area of life, career, relationships, fun and adventure are all other areas that most people would like to spend time on as well.
Therefore I think it is important to move your behaviors so that handling fitness is automatic. Once you make being healthy the way you naturally operate you can free up your mental resources to tackle all the other aspects of your life.
I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to get in shape and become healthy is that they don’t form and practice habits of health. They have short bursts of dieting and exercise followed by relapses into poor eating and inactivity.
Once a habit is formed it no longer requires mental effort to run. It is automatic. When you go through these spurts of dieting and relapse, you never form habits. That means that diet and exercise are always a conscious struggle.
Much of my own success in creating a healthy lifestyle came from simply installing health oriented habits one at a time. I increased my amount of exercise per week, I improved my diet and I took control of my sleep, by systematically adding and forming better habits.
Most people when they start a diet or exercise plan immediately seek to see results. They want to lose weight or put on muscle. These goals should be secondary to first forming that habits that will keep you healthy for a lifetime. When you already have healthy habits not only will you get in better shape but it will be much easier to modify whatever program you are using to reach your weight related goals.
If you are interested in how you can set up habits, I suggest reading my Habitual Mastery  series for an in-depth explanation of exactly how to do this.
Shift Your Attitude
Getting in shape for a few weeks or months isn’t too hard. Staying in shape for a lifetime, requires something more. That is the right beliefs and attitudes. Without these you can’t possibly hope to succeed in the long-term. Staying fit and healthy will always be a struggle.
The proper attitude for staying in shape is to be the kind of person that makes health a priority. The person that sees their body as a temple, as a sacred vessel that shouldn’t be left to deteriorate or have crap put inside it. This person also recognizes that health is more than weight or appearances, and staying healthy is a must regardless of the speed of your results.
Attitude shifts take time. Shifting your beliefs can be helped by finding another person who already has the attitude you want and by modifying your behavior to match a person who already has that attitude. Steve Pavlina posted an excellent audio recording  recently about shifting your attitude and identity for goal achievement that is definitely worth a look.
More than Appearances
For a lot of people the only reason to get in shape is for the sake of vanity. People want to look good and that can often be the sole and prime motivation for hitting the gym. Although I don’t think this is a bad reason to start a diet, I don’t think it is enough.
Setting up all the habits you need to be successful in getting in shape is hard work. If your only motivation is that you want to look good for the beach, I don’t think you’ll be able to summon up the will to make the changes that need to be made.
Getting in shape and adopting a healthy lifestyle is about increasing the energy you have and improving the quality of your life. Success in your physical health gives you a lot of energy and power in all the other areas of your life. If you can’t see it as being this important it will be much harder to continue when things get difficult.
I would even go as far as to say that you shouldn’t focus on looking good when you start forming habits, but on being healthier. This goal is easier to achieve when you are forming your habits and it will ensure you are more likely to stick with it after you’ve shed the extra pounds. As your health improves so will your appearance, but it can sometimes take time to see results where as you can always work to being healthier today.
Find Your Method
Getting in shape doesn’t have to mean hiding in the gym and eating only broccoli. The nice thing about getting in shape is that it is a goal with many possible paths. There are many different forms of exercise and many different dietary strategies. Experiment and find what method is most suitable for you.
Too often I believe people get caught up on what is the best or perfect choice. The best diet, the best gym, the best plan. Why not try them all? Experimentation increases the likelihood that you will find something that works for you. I like going to the gym and I follow a vegetarian diet, that doesn’t mean it is the best choice for everyone.
The only caveat I would like to add to this rule is that you should focus on health when making your choice not quick results. Some diets or exercise plans can offer huge promises but their focus is only on getting you to dangerously drop pounds in an unsustainable program. You probably already have a good idea of what is healthy and what isn’t, so use that as your judge.
The best time to improve your health is now. Physical health creates energy that travels to all the other areas of your life. A poor body will drag down your growth in all areas more than anything else. Take some time to improve your health and you may stumble upon the energy you need to improve everything else.