“There is no better time than the start of a New Year to discuss the concept of ‘Wellbeing'”, reveals Lomax founder & PT, Jonathan Lomax
“Exercising correctly for your body, and eating the right foods, in the right amounts at the right times, without restriction, are all absolutely key to your wellbeing.”
But do these things make you ‘happy’? Surely, if we are going to be healthy, productive, successful and filled with joy, then we need to focus on our minds too?
The concept of the ‘mind’ and the subject of ‘mental wellbeing’ is a bit of a landmine, as happiness is largely defined subjectively. What makes one person happy might ‘depress’ another.
Needless to say as a PT I’m not qualified per se, to analyse your happiness levels, despite the popular idea that PT’s and hairdressers are in fact shrinks. However, given that I have spent the great bulk of my life working in a 1:1 capacity with a wide range of people from all over the world, I have a relatively large base of experience from which to draw some conclusions that will help you implement ways of thinking about your training, nutrition and body goals that will positively impact your mental health.
During this blog series I will be focusing on our modern-age relationship with food and exercise and what I see as the ‘success/failure paradox’ which is fast creating a global anxiety epidemic.
I will show you how to navigate the both amazing and destructive obsession with fitness that’s seen the the rise of boutique gyms, ClassPass and Instagram #fitspo stars – that have been tantamount to giving the industry a metaphorical steroid.
How to define success
Being successful in terms of our fitness and health is relatively easy to define. We can set any number or types of goals and we can commit time, work hard, seek advice from experts, measure and track our progress on the journey to achieving them.
The paradox, however, lies in the fact that to succeed we will in fact fail, and we will fail a lot. Add to this, the closer we come to success, the harder our failures are to swallow, and perhaps so hard to deal with, that we may even give up. Furthermore, the fear of failing or ‘going backwards’ once we have attained a successful outcome can in fact ruin the ‘happiness’ created by succeeding!
This results in a rise of anxiety, that’s bubbling up beneath the #fitspo posts and something I’m becoming more and more aware of when speaking to clients at Lomax, Chelsea.
So many of us are struggling with the desire to enjoying ourselves and the subsequent guilt we feel post ‘fun times’ leading us to make up for our ‘sins’ by training or starving ourselves ‘happy’. Classic examples are the January detox. Did anyone feel slightly anxious scrolling through their social feeds on January 1st as the ‘New Year, New You’ gang got up, donned their lycra and resolved to cleanse themselves in an apparently cheerful whirlwind of low-carb eating and HIIT sweat-fests?
You may well be thinking, ‘hypocrite, you’re no better!’, and perhaps you’re right. I run a boutique fitness business, we are on ClassPass, we have celebrity personal trainers, and three studios where we offer small group fitness sessions, HIIT, spin, boxing, reformer pilates, physio and nutritionist services. We have a health café, our own protein supplements, and we work with all the big fitness-clothing brands in our pop-up retail store.
We use every social media channel there is and they are full of the usual marketing banter. From pictures of protein pancakes and kale based green juices on our Instagram, and videos of lycra clad partner workouts on our YouTube channel, to Q&A sessions on Facebook Live with the same famous faces you will find on the cover of Women’s Health and Grazia.
We have shelves of the latest nut butters and fitness gadgets designed to help you be a better you; we have body composition machines that stream live updates about your fat/muscle percentage straight to an app on your phone so you can show off about your #gainz to your #squad on social media. Or casually inform fellow dinner party guests that your metabolic age is in fact that of a 20-year-old bikini model, rather than the actual 30-year-old (tired, overworked, lactose and gluten intolerant, HIIT class junky who just became a vegan) – that you are.
I can’t apologise for this. But, I am writing this article precisely because I have begun to see that we have a responsibility to ensure that we aren’t just there for the good times, the personal bests, the fat loss wins, the return of your body to its former post-pregnancy glory, the 1st place, the hell week, the 10k finish or the fixed backs and knees. We need to be there for the whole journey, your failure to hit your target fat percentage, the plateau in your weight lifting, the missed marathon time, the rehab that isn’t working, the spontaneous cheat day, the hangovers that kept you in bed rather than at our Blast Class, and the boy or girl on Tinder who didn’t think you looked like your profile pic!
Put simply, whilst helping you know more about you, your body, your health and your fitness abilities, is important for SMART goal setting and achieving success, we (trainers, nutritionists and gym owners) are also creating a source of potential anxiety and unhappiness. This is then injected with ‘crack’ by our need to continuously see what our friends or followers or ‘fitspos’ are up to, and compare our progress with people we barely know, but assume are healthy, productive, successful and happy.
So what can we do?
To make matters worse, our online ‘gurus’, tell us to relax, sleep more, train less, eat more, put our phones down, go offline, and chillax in order to achieve our goals and attain happiness. Apart from the palpable irony in using social media to advise people not to use social media, and despite the fact that the intention behind this advice is probably correct and good (I hope); you just can’t tell people to relax or calm down or not do ‘a thing’, without replacing it with a useful alternative. We need to find some actual strategies that help us deal with our daily failures, that help us change our perspective, and see them for what they are – the journey, a series of start, middle and ends, that lead ultimately to a positive change.
If we zoom out and look at the process of evolution (the thing that’s been happening over millions of years, responsible for the bodies we are in today) we can see that it has been the continuous series of trial and errors, successes and failures of design and the subsequent adaptation that has led to our survival.
If that doesn’t do it for you, let’s look at the high jump athlete. If they never raise the bar, they won’t ever break records. At first they may well hit it, which is painful and sucks, but next time they will jump higher. But they, like you would never know how high they could go if they didn’t keep raising the bar. You have to fail to progress. If you just kept jumping at the height you know you can reach, you are simply living life on repeat.
Simply put, success is a series of failed attempts that teach you how to improve. In terms of achieving your ideal body image or target performance goals, it’s worth understanding where your metaphorical bar is and deciding where you want it to be and how important that really is to you. If you don’t push yourself, work hard, collect information about what doesn’t work for you, and what has worked for others, you will never progress. This is ‘bigger picture’ thinking.
In essence to achieve true balance without suffering overwhelming anxiety about not achieving it, we need to re-wire our thinking to understand our failures as ‘achievements’; experiences we can recall at any time, to help guide us forward.
Over the next few weeks I am going to give you the strategies I use to calm my brain and clear my mind of negative, anxiety producing thoughts. You will be able to build these into your exercise plan, to stop you from becoming the metaphorical hamster on a treadmill. I will also give you the tools you need to take control of your relationship with food for good!