Stop Surviving, Start Thriving: A Holiday Guide

It’s that time of year again.

Decorations are going up, the music is playing in every store you walk into.

The holiday season is upon us.

When you were younger, this time of year was something you looked forward to all year long. It meant toys and presents and days off from school. Now, not so much.

For many of us, this time of year represents stress. Financial struggles, food binges, lots of family time (this one could be a good or a bad thing depending on the person). 

It’s getting cold, the sun is setting earlier. Pretty soon there will be snow on the ground f$%king up your daily commute. 

Motivational thoughts of being on the beach scantily clad are long gone, and now you have sweaters over layers upon bundles to keep you warm, and hide your growing belly from prying eyes.

It’s easy to just say “Screw it, I’ll start next year. January 1st here I come!”. Actually it’s more than easy, it seems like the logical decision.

You think “There is no way I can stick to my diet/workout routine through these next few weeks anyway, why add to the stress? Might as well just take a break, and hit it hard next year. It’s the responsible thing to do!”

Pardon my French when I say, what a load of shit.

I see it every year, like clock work.

Please, please, PLEASE, don’t let this be you.

Why not?

Well first, it’s just lazy. Don’t be the guy or girl that takes the easy way out. If there’s anything I’ve learned over my lifetime, it’s that the easy way is almost never the way you really want to go.

Secondly, for many people “January 1st” never comes. It keeps somehow getting pushed back, and pushed back, and somehow it’s summer then its Thanksgiving again and you’ve never even started.

I know what you’re thinking: “Nah, not me. I am going to take some time now, but I am starting in 2019. It’s my resolution.”

Well, my third point would be, 80% of New Year’s resolutioners give up by February. And that number increases to over 90% just a few months down the line. 

Personally, I hate “New Years Resolutions.” What is special about January 1st? It is a dumb, arbitrary time, that literally means nothing.

January 1st is just another day, that is not today. Another way to say tomorrow, next week, next month, “after I get this promotion,” “when I get settled into my new place,” “when the kids are a little older,” or whatever other time sensitive excuse you’ve made over the years.

“Paul, you just don’t get it. I really am busy now! The holidays, theres so much to do!”

There’s always a lot to do. Life never slows down. If you can find time January 1st, you can find time now. If you can make excuses now, you’ll make excuses come January 1st.

However, don’t get me wrong. I do know that there is truth in the above statement. I am sure you really are busy, and there are a hundred different things pulling you in a thousand different directions this time of year. 

Some would tell you “Just try to survive these next few weeks, then get back on track once the holidays are over.” Seems logical right?

The internet is rife with “holiday survival guides.” They’ll explain to you how you can fight back against the dreaded turkey day stuffing (pun intended). Maybe they will have healthy swaps, or “day after workouts” that will help you “sweat out” all of your indiscretions. 

Just 77 million results, NBD

All of that is more or less bullshit. 

Understand me: obviously, swapping out mashed potatoes for steamed cauliflower, or limiting your alcohol consumption to one glass of wine at dinner, or whatever other tactics they give you probably wouldn’t hurt.

All this is are ways to diet during the holidays. 

You know all of that already though. You aren’t dumb. We all know what foods we should have, and what we should probably stay away from if we are concerned with our waistline. 

I’m not going to sit here and tell you “don’t butter your mashed potatoes and skip the gravy on the turkey!” (because, come on, that’s no way to live!)

The thing is, I don’t want you to just “survive.” This isn’t The Walking Dead. Survival isn’t something to strive for, its assumed.

What I want for you, is to THRIVE. That’s what my guide is about.

Holiday THRIVEal is based around a shift in how you think about the holidays, fitness, and your health. Change your mindset, change your actions.

Listed below are some key mindset changes that will help to get you out of survival mode, so you can start thriving:

Survival: Try not to overeat on Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/whatever. Stay away from the cheesy, the bread-y, the potato-y, creamy, and every other type of goodness. Fill up on salad, and greens, and sprouts, and other types of food fed to rabbits and farm animals.

  • This will lead to you not enjoying this time, in which you should be creating loving memories with your family and friends. Instead, they will be wondering why you are not enjoying yourself (or the food), and you will be staring longingly at everyone else’s plate.

THRIVEal: Holidays come every year. This isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. There are 365 days in a year, and no one day, night, dinner, lunch, or snack, will outweigh what is done on those other 364 days. Don’t be gluttonous, enjoy some things, but not everything. Be mindful, but focus on enjoyment. No diet is worth doing if it makes you unhappy. Enjoy some good food, with good company.

Survival: “Oh no! I messed up and ate too much! Now I have to run to the gym first thing tomorrow to punish myself with hours of cardio!”

or: “Oh no! I messed up and ate to much! Now I have to starve myself for the next x-many days!”

  • Both of these promote a negative relationship with food, and perpetuates that eating, even with family and friends, is in some way bad, and you should be punished for it. Plus, cardio most likely will not burn off the calories you ate, no matter how hard or for how long you run. 

THRIVEal: Wow, I sure did eat a lot last night. I feel great today. All of those carbs will give me energy, and I have tons of muscle building protein in me. I am going to have a great lifting session, and put those calories to use!

  • If you want to work out the day after a big holiday meal (which I do recommend), lift, don’t do excessive cardio. Cardio won’t burn away everything you ate regardless. Lifting on the other hand, will tell your body to partition those nutrients floating around your belly and bloodstream for something good, like muscle building. 
  • You are still working out, but now with a positive mindset. It is not something you have to do, as a punishment. It is something you get to do, and feel great about, and the awesome meal you had the night before contributed to that! Win-win!

Survival: “I am so busy with work, I still have to go shopping for everyones presents, my parents arrive on Tuesday. If I try to stick to my routine, I know I’m going to crash and burn. I’ll just skip it and get back when things calm down a bit.”

THRIVEal: “I am so busy with work, I still have to go shopping for everyones presents, my parents arrive on Tuesday. If I try to stick to my routine, I know I’m going to crash and burn. I am going to find (or ask my coach) for a few abridged workouts I can do with minimal time and equipment. It won’t be what I usually do, but at least it’s something. I can definitely find 20-30 mins for a workout one or two times this week.”

  • As I said, it’s fine to not be as consistent in the gym as you might like. This is about habits. The reason it is ok to miss some workouts, but not all of them, is that you want to stay in the habit of doing physical activity. It may seem trivial, “what are one or two workouts going to do?” A lot. They will keep you moving forward, and this time of year, sometimes that forward momentum can be everything.

Survival: Work is piling up, you have a hundred deadlines you have to hit before you leave for your vacation. You have to shop, plan, cook, clean. There is always more to do, and just as you think you have put out the last fire, another one springs up

THRIVEal: You know work is going to be a shit show, and you have more to do than you can possibly hope to accomplish. Instead of letting it get you down, you buckle in. Break out your handy dandy schedule book (if you don’t have one, download an app. I simply use Google Calendar) and get to work. Schedule EVERYTHING. Time blocks, down to the half hour. What gets planned, gets done. You will see your productivity shoot through the roof, and find you have time for way more than you thought you would.

  • Getting your workouts in and eating healthy is hard enough the rest of the year. Throw in the holidays, and it’s a total shit show. I am a big proponent of scheduling and time blocking all of the time, but if you don’t do it normally, start now. Schedule in your workouts, your meal preps, and whatever else you need to keep you on track. Write it in just like you would a work meeting or picking your grandma up from the airport. It’s in your schedule, so it’s happening. You don’t move meetings around because grocery shopping took longer than you expected, and you don’t leave grandma waiting outside of terminal B in the cold because you were tired from cramming all of your work into the days running up to the holiday. However you’d gladly use these things as an excuse not to work out. See where I’m going? Fitness, diet, exercise, your health, etc, should not be a “second class citizen” in your life. It should be as important as anything else you do (I’d even argue, more important).

Survival:  You try to severely limit alcohol consumption. You tell yourself you aren’t going to drink, or that you’ll only have one or two. What actually happens is, either a) you adhere to that and have a terrible time, or b) that plan goes completely out the window around the time of your 5th Hot Toddy.

THRIVEal: You minimize calories by choosing lighter drinks. You mix with calorie free options like seltzer or diet soda. Try to hydrate and adhere to the 1-to-1 drink-to-water ratio rule. You don’t TRY to drink to excess, but you just have fun, and let the chips fall where they may. 

  • While in reality, alcohol is definitely not ideal for your waistline, its effects on its own can be minimized. The real problem is what comes along with alcohol. 
  • Things like mixers (hey eggnog and spiced rum ciders, I’m looking at you), poor food decisions while drinking, and drunk/hungover munchies after the fact are the real culprits that are sabotaging your progress. Mindfulness is again key here.

These changes may seem like small, maybe even trivial. To you, they might not even seem like changes at all.

The goal is not “one simple trick,” or a “life hack” that will let you get around the holiday season worry free.

That doesn’t exists. Anyone who is telling you otherwise, is selling you snake oil. 

Success in fitness, health, weight loss, dieting, business, and life in general, is about habits. What you do most of the time, will always outweigh what you do some of the time, all of the time.

The holiday season, is in fact just like any other time of the year. Like I said in the beginning, If you can find time January 1st, you can find time now. If you can make excuses now, you’ll make excuses come January 1st. If it’s not a Christmas or thanksgiving, it’s birthdays, office parties, summer BBQs, anniversaries, and anything else.

Instead of trying to find ways around these things, learn to embrace them. They are a part of life. You can’t avoid them even if you wanted to, so why try? And in reality, why would you want to?

To circle back around to a point I made in the beginning, what is special about January 1st? Nothing.

The time is now. Regardless if you have been on a solid routine for months, or have yet to start at all. 

Something that I like to do with all of my coaching clients around this time of year, that I have seen great success with, is setting small, specific goals through this last stretch of the year. 

Five weeks from now until Jan 1st. What is something that you can look to achieve by then?

It can be a weight goal (a small one), consistency, mindset, or anything else. Just something to set your mind on, and work towards. 

This has two major benefits that I love: one, it keeps you working toward something, keeps forward momentum going. Two, instead of starting off the new year with a new goal, you are starting it off with a fresh win, an already concurred goal. This sets the tone for the entire year to come, and really gets things moving on the right foot. 

I’d love for you to respond here, or in the comments below, and let me know what your short term goal for the rest of the year is. Just make it specific, realistic, and make sure its challenging enough to push you just a bit.

Use the guidelines I have given you to start building a healthier relationship with food, holidays and your mindset in general. It is going to be tough at first, but if you can get it down, it will be a total game changer, I promise.

Do you like what you just read? Hate it? Either way, drop a comment and let me know! Then, share this with a friend and see if they feel the same way!

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