Mantra Monday: Making Adjustments

The best laid plans…

Greetings and welcome to another week! The last couple have seemed really busy to me. I’m done with the semester for my college job, but grades are due in the morning, so I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. On top of that, I took a couple of unplanned sub jobs that have busied up my days.

One of the first things that people tell me whenever I explain to them the sheer volume of things I’ve usually got going on at any one time is, “You have too many irons in the fire…” or some other cliche. One of the drawbacks to that part of my personality is that sometimes things get missed, and sometimes I’m not able to keep my word. I hate that part of things. I know we’ve been over this time and again, but if you’re new here – no I don’t.

Da Vinci's classic sketch "The Vitruvian Man"
I like to fancy meself a Renaissance man…

I’m at my happiest when I’ve got a lot of different projects going at once. Currently these are my jobs/commitments/priorities:

  • Adjunct Instructor – Like I said, I just finished the semester last week, but grades are due.
  • Substitute Teacher – Not my favorite job, but it’s going to pay hidden dividends (or, at least, it had better…).
  • Freelance writer – this is whence the lion’s share of my income has come this winter/spring, and the work’s starting to pile up. I currently have around a 10,000 word/week workload.
  • Musician – I’ve been playing about two shows per month this year on average. Buffalo Jones rehearses one night per week, and we’re planning a huge cross-country excursion to record in Georgia this summer. Also, at some point this year, I got designs on puttin’ out a completely new original solo record.
  • Sovereign Ruler of Brandonia – I am committed to posting five blog articles a week on this site. I also built and maintain the site. I handle all of the social media marketing, books, and everything else for my business. I’m working on several other media for this site as well, including audio and video content.
  • Family Handyman – I’ve spent more time than I care to the last two weeks handling chainsaws, lawnmowers, reciprocating saws, and table saws. I’m over it, but something tells me it’s not going to stop soon.
  • Commitment to Working Out – I’ve been to the gym three times/week, regardless of circumstances, since mid-February.

Discipline’s what keeps it all spinning.

Yes, as I mentioned above, one of the drawbacks of having so much going on all the time is that sometimes things get missed. That’s were tracking and adjusting come into play. They’re essential parts of discipline, and they’re also what today’s post is really all about.

Part the First: Tracking Progress

We’ve been over and over it, motivation will fail you, but discipline will keep you going. This does not mean that motivation is useless. Motivation is a powerful lubricant for the gears of discipline. If you’re motivated, your discipline doesn’t have to work too hard because you want to do the work you’re doing. Discipline has to kick into gear when you’re more motivated to stay home on the couch eating Cheetos and watching The Biggest Loser than you are motivated to actually go to the gym. However, even the most dutiful among us can have our discipline eroded away by a lack of progress or perceptible results.

Shake things up with dynamic goals

Setting a goal and tracking progress toward that goal is like booster pack for your discipline. Discipline, like a slow moving glacier carves out canyons, coulees, and the very mountains themselves, carves our bodies, minds, and character. It is relentless, and if truly integrated, is unstoppable. Even without any motivation at all, if you stay disciplined, you’ll achieve your goal as long as your goal is achievable. However…

…There’s nothing wrong with giving it a little shove from time to time. If we stick with the glacier metaphor, every so often, a cataclysmic event comes along and changes everything. The glacier’s trajectory, its speed, its potency – all can be changed by earthquakes, volcanoes, and other tectonic activity.

The same can be said of our plans. Sometimes life comes along like those cataclysmic events (sometimes it actually is a cataclysmic event) and stands in our way. We have to change course or we’ll stall. Discipline, like gravity pulls the glacier, is going to pull us toward progress with or without motivation as long as we cultivate it. However, if we give ourselves new goals in the face of those new challenges, the motivation of a new goal will help us keep our discipline sharp.

Once you’ve got the goal, track your progress.

Photograph of me playing guitar with the band Mojo Box circa 2015.  I weighed around 250 pounds back then.
When you’re a tubby musician, you never have to worry about “before” pics. Somebody’s always there with a camera to snap ’em for you.

Since it’s Monday, and we’re talking fitness (though, of course, you can apply this stuff to any area of your life), let’s talk about the “before” pics. A lot of people really love doing this. I’ve done it before, and, though I don’t have any from this current round of weight loss, I’ve got plenty of pictures of me as a fat guy to help me remember.

I am taking progress pictures, though. I’ve posted a couple to Instagram, and one of my favorite things in the world right now is that I can fit into all of the “skinny” clothes I bought a couple of years ago.

Make the tracking match the goal.

If your goal is to lose weight, then you should know how much weight you started with. If your goal is to build muscle, then get out the tape and take some measurements. If your goal is to increase your fitness level, then make sure you’re tracking your vitals (HR, BP, recovery rate, etc.) and/or your performance at exercise (increased reps, distance, speed, etc.) Regardless of what your goal is, the metrics you decide to use should be relevant to it.

Don’t over-track.

This is advice that a lot of weight-loss programs will tell you, and I agree with it – at least for myself. Especially with weight, the number is going to fluctuate from day to day, and even hour to hour. Avoid weighing yourself every day. Instead, keep a journal (digital or otherwise) of your weekly weigh-in and make it the same day/time every week. If you’re like most of us and have a fairly set routine, then this will eliminate variables like digestion phases, water retention, and the like.

For muscle growth, I’d track once, maybe twice a month – depending on how hardcore you’re going at it. If you’re like me and aren’t looking to build a lot of muscle mass, then you’ll probably only see measurable gains about once a month.

On the other hand, if you’re really hitting the weights hard and going for that growth, I’d measure every two weeks and keep track of rep and weight increases

My favorite metrics

I weigh myself once a week on Sunday mornings. I also keep track of which clothes fit and which don’t (both ways). I track my calories in vs. calories burned. I track my reps and workout routines, and set goals accordingly.

So I’ve got the data; now what?

Hopefully, you’re varying up your routine enough that you’ll be able to glean some direction from your data. For example, I’ve noticed that I’m putting a lot of empty carbs in by drinking beer, so I’m backing off on that a bit for a while – we’ll see what it does to my growth. If it helps me get to my goals more quickly by easing off the suds, then ease off I shall.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that I was able to increase my mile-and-a-half speed by .4mph last week, but that I was pretty gassed at the end of the running portion, so I will probably use that data to keep my speed the same this week and maybe add an eight to a quarter of a mile onto the end of the run instead.

Do you see the connection?

By keeping track of my progress, I am now motivated to get better at running every week, which helps me stay disciplined in doing it. Weights are similar. When I know I’m making progress toward a personal goal, I want to work on that goal – even when it’s nearly 7:00 and I have a lot of other things to get done tonight.

So, when we say, “F— motivation. Cultivate discipline,” we really need to be cognizant of the fact that motivation still has its value. Particularly when it comes to keeping our discipline sharp. Motivation and discipline are like the yin and the yang sometimes, they work together, even in opposition. When motivation fails, discipline keeps you going. When discipline becomes a slow grind that isn’t seeming to yield results, setting some new goals and changing course can be just the thing to strengthen your discipline, and yourself.

I’m headed to the gym now. Please make sure you follow me on social media! Also, tomorrow’s Tuesday Tune-Up will be a review of my friend Rachael Layne’s new single, “Shock Value.”