Hello you lovely people, and welcome to the second post in our Pole Goals 101 series – a guide on how to engineer your environment.
Last week, I wrote about how setting realistic and achievable pole goals starts with knowing your why. I hope it’s given you some useful information to chew over during the week, and you’ve had some inspiration to create new pole goals.
So, with your goals in mind, this week I’m going to talk about one of the most effective ways you can help yourself achieve those goals.
Humans are lazy.
I don’t believe the kinds of people who say they’re not, because we all have lazy tendencies. It’s human nature.
It’s easier to pick up a snack that’s on the countertop than put one together.
It’s easier to sit down in front of Netflix after a long day than to get changed and head to pole class.
It’s far easier just to say “fuck it, I’ll do it tomorrow” after you’ve had a crappy day than to face your goals head on.
Perhaps you wish you were less lazy; perhaps you wish, at the end of the day, you just had the willpower to get shit done.
But here’s the thing – willpower is a finite resource.
When we talk about ‘having the willpower’ to do things, what we really mean is choosing the hard decisions over the easy ones – like choosing to drive to pole class instead of sitting at home with a beer.
Sure, some people have more willpower than others. Willpower is something you can work on and develop more of. But it’s a common misperception, particularly in the fitness world, that willpower is just something you have an infinite store of.
That is not the case.
Making decisions, and in particular, hard decisions that require a lot of effort on your part, take energy.
Some decisions are easier than others, like picking whether to order in pizza or a kebab. You’re ordering takeout regardless, so you just have to make the decision about which one you’d prefer.
However, if you’re deciding between ordering in and cooking a meal at home – particularly when it’s been a rough day – making the decision to cook a meal takes far more willpower, and energy, than ordering takeout.
When we have to make a decision where one option is far easier than the other, we have to use more willpower – and energy – to make the harder decision.
Not only this, but when we’re faced with so many decisions during the day, it gets harder and harder to make those decisions that don’t follow the easy option.
Let’s say you’ve had a rough day at work. Long meetings, constant interruptions, bosses breathing over your shoulder, etc. But despite that, you’ve stayed on top of your goals.
Maybe you’ve made the decision to forego your standard bacon butty for poached eggs on toast for breakfast from the work canteen. Then for lunch, instead of having a burrito and fries, you had stir fried beef with tons of veggies. You’ve drunk water all day instead of your normal fizzy drinks.
But you’ve still had a crappy day, which has sucked what remained of your energy from you.
If you then have to come home and make the decision between cooking a nutritious meal or saying “fuck it” and ordering takeout, you may not have the energy left to make a goal-oriented decision – particularly if your environment makes ordering takeout the easy decision.
This is where engineering your environment comes in.
Engineering your environment is a way of overcoming the need to expend willpower to make decisions.
The aim is to make those decisions easier to make, or remove the need to make them all together.
So, following the example I gave above about making dinner – it would be an easier decision to order takeout food than cook at home, right?
Well, that might be the case if there were no other factors to consider.
What if now, when weighing up whether to order in or cook at home, you remember you have all the ingredients in to throw together a quick, easy and nutritious chicken one-pan meal, that will cook in 30 minutes – but your takeaway won’t arrive until an hour after you order it.
Is it such an easy decision now?
After all, cooking in would require you to go and prepare your meal, while ordering takeout food would require you to wait longer to eat.
Through making it so your environment is already set up to help your goals, you’re tipping the scales.
The decision that was once the hardest option of the two is now on equal footing.
Keeping ingredients in your house to make the meals that would be more nutritious for you, and better serve your pole goals, is just one way of engineering your environment to help you achieve your goals.
How to Engineer Your Environment
So, now you have an idea of what work you currently do towards your pole goals, what decisions you make during the day that influence whether you achieve those goals, and why you make those decisions.
I’m going to help you find ways to make those decisions work for you – not the other way around.
There’s two main ways we can go about engineering our environments to make it easier to achieve our pole goals – making goal-influencing decisions easier to make, and making it harder to make decisions that don’t help, or hinder, our goals.
Keep Your Fitness Gear Accessible
Our last place was a rented 2 bed apartment, and while it wasn’t small, it wasn’t huge either.
Every time I wanted to train pole at home, I’d have to spend 20 minutes setting up my stage pole, train, then spend 20 minutes taking it back down again. I wasn’t allowed to mount a pole in my house, but I never had the room to do so anyway.
This first hurdle made the decision to train pole at home far more difficult than, say, watching Netflix or playing video games. I was turning a 1-hour training session into nearly 2, just because I had to set up my equipment before I could start using it.
Since we’ve moved into a 3-bed house, we have way more room to keep our fitness gear accessible.
This isn’t to say you need a huge space in order to make your fitness dreams a reality – far from it. You can train towards your goals (depending on what they are, of course) using your own body weight, or only needing enough space to set down a yoga mat.
The key point is that whatever you use to train, you need to make it easy to access and ensure it’s easy to set up.
After all, it’s going to be far harder to make the decision to stretch if you have to spend 20 minutes figuring out where you left your yoga mat last time – but if you can grab it straight away, it negates that additional energy expenditure entirely.
If you have space, think about where you can leave your fitness gear either fully set up and ready to go, or in a state where it won’t take long to get yourself going.
Ideally, you want to make sure you’re spending no more than 5 minutes on setting up your equipment, so if you’ve scheduled in training time, you can hop onto the pole, your yoga mat, or the weights before you get time to talk yourself out of it.
Meal Prep, Batch Cook or Plan
Honestly, this has been a game-changer for us.
The premise is simple, really – figure out what you’re going to eat in the week ahead of time.
On each day, myself (green) and my partner (blue) list what our workout plans are for that day, or if we’re doing anything that might change what we want to eat. For instance, you can see on Sunday, my partner had noted he was out with friends (which was at lunch) so we planned to eat something small in the evening.
This also helps us to understand what our nutritional needs will be on those days, and plan accordingly.
We also use the ‘treat day’ concept once a week, which for us means a day we’re either going out to eat in the evening with friends, we’ve got other social events planned, or we otherwise diverge from our nutritional plan.
You can also see we leave ourselves room to decide what we want to eat on the day, as we don’t always know ahead of time.
On these days we note things like “Chicken ?” or “Quorn ?” so we know that we’ll be cooking with those sources of protein, but otherwise the fats, carbs and veggies we eat alongside them is down to what we fancy.
Now, the key thing here is that we don’t use this system to restrict ourselves.
We still eat things we love, like curries and jacket potatoes, but it helps us be a bit more aware about the nutritional content of our food and makes sure that we’re eating food that’s both tasty, and fuels our exercise.
Part of this system is that, every Monday, I’ll cook up a batch of taco beef, veggies and rice for the week.
This means we have a quick and easy dinner to warm up when we both get home from our classes, and Nick has protein-packed lunches to take to work.
It also means that if, for some other reason, we know we won’t have time to cook, we have something to grab and eat that isn’t a supermarket ready meal or takeout.
It also helps us reduce waste as we can make a plan to use up food before it goes bad so, win!
Don’t Buy Food That Works Against You
A bit of what you fancy does you good…but a lot of what you fancy isn’t always conducive to achieving your goals.
This is one of the biggest things we’ve had to learn recently.
Having snacks in the house, and particularly snacks that have no real nutritional value that works towards our goals is a minefield for us.
The idea of having willpower with snacks is awesome but, if you work from home like I do, it’s easier said than done to stop thinking about the biscuits in the cupboard. Particularly if you’re hungry.
The solution for this was to stop buying snacks altogether.
Well, within reason.
We still have snacks with the right nutritional value to eat before a workout, like almonds, protein bars, raw fruit bars and small flapjack bites, but that’s pretty much it these days.
This not only avoids the temptation to snack when you’re at home, but it means if you want to snack on something that doesn’t fit your goals, you’re making the decision way harder to do so.
After all, if you don’t keep snacks in the home, you have to go out and buy them. For me, that means a short walk to the local store. Yes, I’m that lazy that I’d rather stay at home than do a 15 minute round trip to the store and back.
However, if you are a snack fiend, there’s plenty you can do to make sure the snacks you have fit your goals.
If you like crunchy snacks (crisps, tortilla chips, etc) try replacing these with a portion of roasted, salted nuts, peas or beans. Just make sure you pre-weigh out a portion because, speaking from experience, you can definitely eat more than one serving in a single sitting. Roasted chickpeas and edamame beans are currently my favourites!
If you like sweet snacks (cakes, milkshakes, chocolate bars, etc) try replacing these with fruit, protein shakes, or protein bars. It’s well known that a good supply of protein each day will help power you through your goals, so even if you replace your chocolate bar with a protein shake made with milk, you’re already one step ahead of where you were.
I’m not saying stop eating all the things that make you happy. No way.
My point is that often, the things that are the tastiest – looking at you, brownies! – aren’t always what we need, nutritionally, to work towards our goals.
But if you want brownies (or the snack of your choice) then GO FOR IT.
Life’s too short to let brownies go stale.
Temptation Bundling is an awesome way of keeping you on top of your goals.
While it does rely on having a little more willpower than the above options as you have to actively deny yourself temptations, except in certain situations, it can really pay off.
The whole concept of temptation bundling works like this:
Pick a thing that you like to listen to, or watch. You can only listen to, or watch, this thing when you’re working out.
So, for example, let’s say you’re like me and you love listening to Welcome To Night Vale. You also have the goal that you want to walk for at least 15 minutes every day. So, you pair the two – you tell yourself you can only listen to Welcome to Night Value while you’re walking.
While I don’t believe anyone should be doing workouts that they hate, I’m also realistic – some days, you’re just not feeling it. The idea of going to pole class is overwhelming, your weights just look like far too much today, or you just want to sleep more than anything.
Temptation bundling can be a way of helping you out of this rut, by giving you something to look forward to while you exercise.
Keep Your Fitness Bags and Wear Together (or, at least in the same place all the time)
It’s one of those ‘fitness hacks’ that you see everywhere, but there’s a great reason for this.
I mean, it’s frustrating when you’re just about to leave the house for pole class and you can’t find your Dry Hands, your lip balm, or even just a bag to throw everything into.
Totally speaking from experience there. I’m a mess.
Because I have the worst tendency to forget where I’ve put literally anything, I’ve been trying to get into the habit of keeping my exercise bag in the same place every time, which is usually by the door.
I also keep all of my pole wear organised on the back of my wardrobe door, so I can keep my sports bras, sets and fitness tops in the same place.
This at least saves some time as I’m not scrabbling around to see where I decided to throw my exercise gear after the last laundry cycle. It’s all neatly organised, easy to grab, and reminds me every time I look at it I really need to stop buying workout tops so often.
Like I said above, keeping everything organised and easy to reach means that when you get ready to head to pole class, hit the weights or do some stretching, it takes far less time to get ready.
After all, when you have the momentum to get going, there’s nothing that hits the brakes like not being able to find what you need to keep going.
I really hope this helped explain how engineering your environment can help you not only when you’re building goal-oriented habits, but how they can help you keep going by making things a little easier for you.
Join me next week as I continue the Pole Goals 101 series with a guide on how to create habits around your goals, and make sure you stick to them.
What do you do to engineer your own environment? Have any hints and tricks to share?
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