In a perfect world, there would only be one beginning and end to each person’s fitness journey. No one would ever even think about eating for more than a few days the food most Americans eat every meal. We would rarely be inactive, we wouldn’t need calorie menus at restaurants, and the majority of the population would no longer be overweight. Can you imagine? More room around you on airplanes, lower cost of travel thanks to the weight reduction, longer life expectancies (not just in mattresses)…there’s an endless amount of benefit to a healthier world, and of course not all of them are weight related, but statistically most are.

The reality of the world we live in, unfortunately, is that most people are not currently involved in a serious fitness routine. The average adult does little to nothing to prevent muscle atrophy, cardiomyopathy, skeletal degradation, or other fitness-related health conditions. They also rarely eat appropriately, and it’s probably been at least months if not years since they committed to a fitness regimen that lasted longer than a few weeks. It’s a harsh reality, but it doesn’t matter how we got to this point as much as where we go from here.

The Struggle is Real

It’s hard to get started. I have personally struggled for months to even begin losing 30 extra pounds that I needed to get rid of. I’m currently battling a body that is fighting me from reaching some major strength goals that I want to achieve. I’ve been lifting as if I’m still in my 20’s, but my body is giving me clear signs that it needs much more preparation work before I can lift as aggressively as I have been. The aches, pains, and hunger cravings of delicious high-calorie foods are all very enticing reasons to just take a break…a long break! But I know from experience that once you stop, it’s very difficult to get started again, especially knowing how far you’ve fallen and how long it will take just to get to where you were. You may even think you’ll never get back to your old self, and you will never find out if you don’t try. Truth be told, many people can feel and perform better than they have in decades if they just commit to a serious lifestyle change that prioritizes their body’s strengths, weaknesses, and greatest needs.

So we know once we get going we can see some awesome changes, but what are some ways we can make getting started easier? How can we start safely, enjoy what we’re doing, and see enough progress that it keeps us motivated to keep it up week after week after week? There are of course many answers to these questions, but here is my list of 5 things every successful fitness journey’s beginning should have.

1. Set 4 Goals

Start by writing down where you want to be in 6-months. Don’t be afraid to be aggressive! Losing 10lbs in 6-months is only losing 1/2 a pound a week, and anyone should be able to lose twice that in the same amount of time. Once you’ve established a 6-month goal, mark the half-way checkpoint with a 3-month goal. Cut that into thirds to create monthly goals, and that into quarters for a weekly goal. Once that is completed, you have yourself 24 weeks-worth of goals! Whoop!

This will give you a weekly accountability report of how you’re doing, and it will be very important to measure your progress every week (be it with a scale, bodyfat measurement, strength assessment, measuring tape, etc.), preferably under the exact same circumstances (time of day, before or after x amount of meals or workouts, etc.). You want as much consistency as possible so your measurements reflect accurate change week-to-week and month-to-month.

2. Signal Social Media

Many are going to hate this, but one of the absolute best ways to hold yourself accountable is to post a picture of yourself on social media and let everyone know you are about to change. If it’s a strength or performance based goal, perhaps an image of your current weight you can rep or a time you can complete would be more appropriate. For everybody else, posting a picture revealing as much of yourself as you can muster (and that is publicly admissible) with a description of what you are going to accomplish, why it is so important, and how you plan to do so is incredibly powerful at making yourself  accountable. Once people you interact with regularly see your before photo, they’re going to expect progress updates and a final transformation post, and you don’t want to let them down! More importantly though, you don’t want to let YOU down! You are the one that matters here! Do it for you, but use that accountability from those friends and acquaintances to fuel your determination towards the new you! You’ll likely inspire others while inspiring yourself even more!

3. Phone a Friend

Most people will not successfully be able to break long-held habits that have held them back from their deepest desired fitness goals without the continued support of trusted family and friends. Your closest friends and family members provide invaluable support and guidance for an array of difficulties in your life, and fitness journeys should not be treated any differently.

If you are starting a new lifestyle that is substantially different and more difficult to sustain because you know the results are worth it, then take your fitness as seriously as you take your friendships. Let those closest to you know that you are going to be better now than you have been recently. Let them know what you need to do, what you need to avoid, what the difficulties have been in the past, and that because they are one of your most influential support systems that you will need their encouragement at some point if not immediately. If they’re as good of a friend or family member as you believe them to be, you may not only get more help than you expected but you may even influence them to change their lives too!

4. Plan Your Day

It’s one thing to know you want to do, why you want to do it, and when you want to do it by. It’s a whole different story making it happen, so being as specific as you can in how you are going to implement this new lifestyle can make or break the program. Do yourself a huge favor and take the 10 minutes needed to write out when you’re going to make the healthy decisions needed to reach your weekly goal every week.

I recommend starting with Monday. First thing is first, step on the scale. This will establish your baseline for the beginning of your new life. Making it the first thing you do each new week means every Monday morning will be when you quantify the results from the previous 7 days…including the weekend! Weekends will be much harder to cheat on if you know you’ve got a measurement coming up on Monday, and yes you can absolutely undo everything you worked so hard on during the week (and then some) within 24-48 hours of an unbridled weekend.

Keep in mind, every result can be interpreted as a positive result. If you reach or surpass your weekly goal, fantastic! Keep it up! If you get close but don’t quite make it, hey, you made some progress and now you know you need to either make additional efforts to reach the goal next week, or possibly scale back your expected rate of progress and aim for a pace you can sustain given your current schedule. If you make zero progress, or lose progress, don’t sweat it. All you did was learn that whatever happened during the week isn’t going to work, and something needs to change. If more than 2 or 3 weeks go by without making any or little progress, you need to talk to a fitness professional to identify why.

Again for strength, speed or other performance-oriented goals, weekly goals may be difficult to measure, but simple checks-and-balances like checking off that you completed all your workouts and ate almost entirely healthy the whole week are highly productive habits to implement each week. They will ensure that you are putting in the work and the fuel needed to take your body to another level of strength, speed, endurance, etc.

5. Expect the Unexpected

You are not perfect, nothing is, so don’t expect otherwise from your new diet or workouts. You will eat something you shouldn’t have, feel some physical pain along the way, battle against your brain telling you it’s ok to take a day or four off…that’s just life. Everyone deals with adversity, but you will not learn to push through it if you don’t successfully do so one opportunity at a time. Each chance you have to veer off course is a moment you have the choice to be weak, or to grow stronger. The more decisions you make that keep you on track, the stronger you will become by the control you will take over your life.

There will be office pizza parties, happy hour invitations, ice cream cravings, weddings, funerals, and tons of other times where skipping a workout or putting sludge into your body will become extremely hard to resist. Western culture and social pressure make unhealthy choices obligatory, if not mandatory. Who wants to be the one person at the party not drinking, or turning down that slice of birthday cake over and over again? YOU DO!

Each time you stand up for yourself you’re being a leader. You are showing others that you are taking control of your surroundings, skipping certain events so you can fit in one of your workouts, passing on the dessert table in favor of the veggie tray. You are setting an example that not many others have the willpower to do. People will look up to you and admire your ability to be so dedicated to something you are passionate about! If there are any naysayers, they’ll be eating their words by the time you’re stronger than you’ve ever been, rocking your new form-fitting outfits, and smiling ear-to-ear from all the admiration you receive from others noticing your amazing transformation.