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The Before-During-After Journal
You already know how important it is to track your calorie intake and output in order to lose weight. The same thing is true about your responses to exercise and eating.
For most people, it's easy to notice your negative responses when things don’t go as planned. In fact, it's even easier to get so caught up in these negative thoughts that they seem to sap the motivation right out of you. When this happens, you aren't literally losing your motivation—you're simply running into the natural limitations of extrinsic motivation. You haven’t figured out how to shift into “intrinsic motivation mode” as needed.
Making this shift requires the ability to notice your positive responses to exercise and eating, and to give them the same significance you give to your negative responses. This may take a little practice, starting with the Before-During-After Journal.
To create your own Before-During-After (BDA) journal, all you need is a simple journal (online or on paper) and a few minutes to write before and after you eat and exercise. Here’s how to do it:
Chances are, you’ll notice that you feel better when you stick to your goals and plans, and that the short-lived pleasures of eating that treat or skipping your exercise session are quickly replaced by feelings of guilt and frustration. You’ll also spot some consistent patterns that can be altered with small changes in your daily routine, like doing your exercise as soon as you get home from work instead of waiting until after dinner. These small changes can help you tap into your internal motivation.
Before: Whenever you don't want to exercise or stick to your meal plan, stop and write down how you’re feeling in your BDA journal. This can be very short and simple—just a note about how you are feeling or what you’re thinking about, without analyzing it. Record whether you are tired, bored, angry, upset or worried about something, etc.
During: Go ahead and do whatever you decide to do—exercise or don't, stick to your meal plan or don't, etc. Pay attention to how you feel about your decision and your actions. Did the decision make you feel better or worse? Did your decision help solve the original problem, make it worse, or have no effect? Write down the decision you made and a brief note about how you felt while you were doing whatever you decided to do. Again, short and sweet is fine—don’t try to psychoanalyze yourself or read yourself the riot act if your choice wasn’t the one you hoped for. Just make sure that when you DO decide to exercise or with stick to your meal plan, you make sure to put this in your BDA journal, too.
After: At the end of the day, sit down with your BDA journal for a little while and go through your notes. What patterns do you see, in terms of what seems to help and what doesn’t? What lessons can you take from this and use tomorrow, or the next time a problem comes up?