5 Ways to Find the Bright Side of Weakness

myfitnesspal look on the bright side

Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngWe’ve all been there. The sun has just come up, and your head feels like it’s twice the size as the one you went to bed with. You’re hazy on specifics, but there are still a few congealed pieces of pizza on the counter. And now you’re trying to decide if logging all that pizza, wine, and ice cream into MyFitnessPal will just make you feel worse. Yes, you’ve stumbled, but with a simple mental shift you can get back on track in the time it takes to find the Advil and read this post.

“Becoming is better than being,” Carol Dweck writes in Mindset. A psychology professor at Stanford University, Dweck finds the key difference between successful people and those who aren’t is a “growth mindset,” a way of looking at life that highlights effort and learning over innate ability and given circumstances. I have seen this mindset first hand working with elite-level, internationally competitive athletes. These athletes sacrificed decades to prepare for a single moment of competition, and if anything went wrong on that path to the top, they would do something quite amazing: they’d shrug it off. These athletes would find something positive to say about the experience, and move on as naturally as you and I are breathing. In the world of sport psychology, this powerful skill is called Reframing. And, like all skills, reframing can be learned, practiced, and improved with time. Here’s how:

1. Forgive yourself It wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be perfect. You’re still on the path, you’re still moving forward, the road just isn’t as straight as it looked from where you were. For many of my clients, this is the most difficult step, but there’s a trick that might make it easier: Take a deep breath and actually say the words, “I’m OK,” out loud.

2. Learn from the experience One of the athletes with whom I worked had a sticker on her training journal that said simply, “Win or Learn.” This is an opportunity to reorient. Why is the path different than you thought? Are your priorities in order? Are you pushing yourself too hard? Or not enough? Are you bored? Are you missing something? These are all fixable problems if you take the time to reflect.

3. Change your perspective There is a saying in Zen Buddhism: “The obstacles are the path.” Context is everything, and if you think of this moment as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you’re doing, then you’ll actually be better off for the experience.

4. Don’t worry about the next mile, worry about the next step Put your time and energy into what you need to do today to get back on track. What can you do in the next day, the next hour, or the next 60 seconds that will refocus you on your goal? Even if it’s simply tossing the leftovers in the trash or making a cup of coffee, you’ll be headed in the right direction.

5. Have a ritual My best athletes had some set pattern that told them it was time to move on. They took a deep breath. They took off their shoes. They packed up their gear. Even the simple act of saying out loud, “Whelp, glad that’s over!” can create the space necessary to get back at it.

Reframing can seem like huge task when you’re down, which is why I didn’t try to teach the habit to athletes at the State Championship. We practiced these steps in training sessions instead, when the stakes were low and the emotions were less charged. You can practice them in daily life too, by reframing a typo in an email, burnt toast, or a wrong turn. Practice makes perfect when it comes to getting into the habit of finding the bright side—especially when it’s the bright side that has you reaching for the Advil.

Have you “reframed” a misstep or mistake lately? What helped you see the bright side of the situation?


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit.  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012. 

Plan, Prep, Party!—3 Steps to a Cooking-At-Home Habit

3 Steps to Cooking At Home Habit


Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngCooking at home might be one of the healthiest habits you can create. It also might be the most daunting to get started. Some people start and stop for years, just trying to stick to what seems like a basic breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule. Here are some simple ways to make cooking for yourself as essential to your day as brushing your teeth in the morning.

When you’re trying to master any new habit, you need to maximize your chances of success by optimizing your environment. That means you have to set the barrier to entry so low that all you have to do is step over it. You have to have the courage to aim low… but often!

Step 1: Plan A lot of people set themselves up for a rocky start by trying to plan, shop for, prep, and cook all of their meals for a week at once. That’s 0-21 meals in one step! Instead of tackling all that chopping, dicing, sautéing and cleaning in one day, set a more reasonable goal, such as cooking one meal a day for yourself. Think of the “biggest bang for your buck” goal that you are 90-100% confident you can do every day for 2 weeks. If you’re only 80% confident you can prepare one meal a day for yourself, make the habit more reasonable. How about aiming to make healthier snacks first? Remember, this is the habit you’re going to master first. You can get to everything eventually, but by starting more reasonably, you’re maximizing your chances for eventual success.

Step 2: Prep The most overlooked step to the smooth operation of a professional kitchen has nothing to do with cooking: it’s the prep. When the ingredients are ready to go, all a chef has to do is show up and start cooking. I’ve worked with dozens of clients who wanted to start cooking for themselves, but didn’t know what tools they had in their pantry. Don’t get held up by all the annoying little stuff you have to do, in order to get to the thing you need to do—something programmers call, “shaving yaks,” which sounds like a real drag! Sit down and take inventory of what you need for the next two weeks to make your habit happen. Do you have knives? Cutting boards? Ziptop bags? Mason jars (a.k.a. hipster Tupperwear)? Make a list and remember that every item you check off is one step closer to your goal.

Then, when you go to the grocery store, cut every corner you can. Pre-chopped veggies—check! Pre-cooked chicken breasts—check! Buy what it takes to get the job started and make your life easier. There will be plenty of time later to learn how to make your own fish stock, but for right now the priority should be on getting started!

Step 3: Party Most people who successfully cook all of their meals as a habit do their prep and cooking on a single day, and then store it in the fridge, ready to reheat and serve. And one of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they are learning a new habit is they think they have to do everything themselves. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the kindness of family and friends! Instead of sitting in your house alone on cooking night, invite some friends over and have everyone cook their meals together! You provide the oven and they share their experience, talent, and labor—not to mention help with clean up. You can try new recipes together, take turns coming up with menus, or all pitch in and cook for a friend who’s having a stressful week. Another bonus: you might even have a little fun, which can help make the habit stick!

Cooking at home is a very healthy habit, but to make it stick it’s important to start small, set yourself up right, and make the experience as easy and as fun as possible. Pick a meal (or two!) that you are confident you can make every day for 14 days. Plan it out, so you’re not stuck with a hairy yak, and turn the habit into a good time. As you eat the delicious fruits of your labor, take note of what’s working and what you can do better, and invite the people you love to your table. After all, cooking for yourself is healthy, but cooking for other people is downright fulfilling.

Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit.  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.

So You Want to Stop…Ditching Your Resolutions by January 5th

businessman lost in field using a map

The Map: Finding Focus and Direction for Your 2014 Health + Fitness Goals

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When I was 10 or 11 years old, I got separated from my parents at a national park in Washington. Luckily, I was a Boy Scout and had my trusty park map with me. So for the next 3-4 hours, I walked back and forth across the main path waiting to run into my parents. Needless to say, they were worried sick when I eventually found them and more than a little upset when I acted like it was no big deal. “I wasn’t lost,” I explained. “I had a map; I just didn’t know where I was on it.”

Being on the path to a fitness goal is not different. It requires two things: knowing where you want to go and knowing where you’re at. Lots of people set off towards their goal with a path in mind. Atkins, paleo, Crossfit, walking, running, yoga, Zumba, cycling, intermittent fasting: these are all paths that one can take to many health and fitness goals. But none of them work equally well for everyone. And it can be easy to stray off even the most well-paved path. Ask anyone who has ever set a weight loss goal as a New Year’s Resolution.

So here’s the question: how do know if you’re getting closer to your destination or just clutching to a map?

The Smallest Goal Embiggins

The of the simplest things you can do to keep yourself from getting lost or distracted on the way to any goal is to take care in how you define the goal it self. The goal of good goal-setting is create a goal that is as

  • clear,
  • simple, and
  • meaningful to YOU

as possible.

But before you embark on the process of constructing a goal that fits these criteria, it’s helpful to remember what the point of having a goal is at all. According to Weinburg et al. (1993; 2000), athletes set goals to “provide direction and focus for their actions.”  That’s right – the point of a goal is to keep you oriented and moving forward. Therefore any goal, however noble or visionary, that does not make you feel grounded and keep you moving forward is no longer a goal, by definition. It’s a burden. So, if you’ve set dozens of New Year’s weight loss resolutions or health goals in the past that were discarded by the wayside by January 15th, ditch that approach and find a new one that works for you.

Here’s an example. To many people, “I want to lose 20 pounds” feels impossibly far off and vague. Instead, try wrapping your head around a goal or Resolution that you have complete control over and is still connected to your grander destination. You need to lose weight? How does one lose weight? By eating less and moving more. How does one eat less? By deciding to eat less and actually doing it. Now, you can formulate a goal that is relevant and clear, and ultimately contributes to a habit that will snowball into the ultimate vision of weight loss.

Here’s one such habit I love to teach my own clients: “I will put down the fork when I am 80% full every day for 14 days.” Much more manageable than aiming to lose 20 pounds.

Eliminate Data Overload with a Key Metric

With a tool like MyFitnessPal, you can quickly accumulate a lot of data about your progress toward your health, weight and fitness goals – big and small – by recording what you eat and how much you move. You can also see how you’re doing, place yourself on the map to your goals in real time, and use that data as a safety net to make sure you are on track. Or you can log all that invaluable information then get distracted watching cat videos online.  It’s like having the map and not knowing where you’re at on it.

Way back in 1971, Simon Herbert said that, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” How do you pay attention to what matters when you have information overload? By focusing on a key metric that is tied tightly to your small-scale, right-now goal. Say for example you set the habit goal I just mentioned, the goal of ceasing eating when one is 80% full. Your key metric would be food amount: calories. Remember – for now, you’re just trying to eat less. So for 14 days, the only number that matters toward your goal is the average number of calories consumed for those 2 weeks – that’s your key metric.

Run the report in MyFitnessPal, get the data you need, check yourself, and find out where you’re at – all the way to your individual small goals. Collectively, that will keep you focused and on track to achieve your big ones.

Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, has a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed  to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.