Going Back to Kindergarten: Start Again Without Starting Over

Let me tell you how rocky last month was for me. Late nights, uncontrollable snacking, lack of motivation to do my exercises, and lack of focus during my meditation. I felt I was on a downward spiral. So what did I do to turn it around? A little practice called “going back to kindergarten”.

I’ve previously talked about this important animal training principle. But since then, I’ve learned a little more how to apply “going back to kindergarten” to our fitness. And I’ve also learned more about the etymology of the practice. So, today, let’s revisit this topic once again. We’ll discuss how I’m using it and how it can improve your success in fitness.

Going Back to Kindergarten With Karen Pryor

Karen Pryor (the queen mother of all trainers) was the primary trainer for all the animals as Sea Life Park in Hawaii when it opened in 1965. Her work with dolphins revolutionized the animal training world. Many trainers consider her book Don’t Shoot the Dog the go-to animal training “bible”. However, today, we’re going to talk more about her first memoir, Lads Before the Wind. In it, Karen Pryor introduced readers to the concept of going back to kindergarten.

Read More About the Crazy Awesome Wisdom From Lads Before the Wind

At Sea Life Park, Karen worked with two false killer whales, Makapuu and Olelo. She taught them an incredible behavior of performing a criss-cross bow together. But it didn’t originally go according to plan. Once the individual whales learned the jump in the necessary direction on their own, Karen tried to put them together. Instead of the gorgeous double-bow, the two whales collided in mid-air.

Understandably, the whales refused to perform the jump again. Rather than start over from scratch, Karen employed what she called going back to kindergarten. She went back to a step where each whale was comfortable and successful. And gradually progressed them using a slightly different tactic.

Instead of training them completely separately and expecting them to predict what the other whale was going to do, Karen taught them to jump at the same time, just on opposite sides of the pool. She taught Makapuu to jump over one end of a rope, and Olelo to jump over the other end. Then she raised the rope so it sagged in the middle. The two whales started jumping closer and closer to exert the least effort, until eventually they were jumping right next to each other, just in opposite directions. But they did it on their terms, with Karen’s direction and by going back to kindergarten.

Starting Again Without Starting Over

Karen was successful not because she was a magical Dr. Dolittle, but because she employed a very good tactic when she hit a brick wall in the training of the two false killer whales. Or at least, Makapuu and Olelo hit a brick wall (well, they hit each other).

There are dozens of ways to maneuver around road blocks. These road blocks can be two whales hesitant to jump over a rope, or it can be going off the rails with your eating and sleep schedule. Going back to kindergarten is just one of many methods.

In Karen’s situation, and even in mine, it may be difficult to know how to get around a road block. Many people feel the best way, or the only way, is to go all the way back to the beginning. But the beginning isn’t where you hit the snag. Why would you go all the way and start over?

Finding a Way Without Hitting a Wall

If you have been experiencing success for a while and hit a brick wall (plateau, setback, or unforeseen challenge) out of the blue, there’s no need to start all over. Just go back to the stage or progressive step where you were experiencing that success. Maybe a couple steps from that. Gain back momentum and put more motivation in the bank while coming up with a Plan B (and keep in mind, there are 26 letters in the alphabet, so if plan B doesn’t work…).

Going back to kindergarten gives you a new path around the brick wall up ahead. Maybe you build a bridge or stairs to go over the wall. Or perhaps you take a different path that goes around it. But chances are, by going back a few steps and learning from what you’ve experienced, brick walls don’t deter you. Whether you go around, over, under, or bust through them, using this method gives you a concrete plan to tackle even the biggest setback.

How I Went Back to Kindergarten to Improve My Sleep and Eating Habits

So, going back a few steps, starting again without starting over, helps in more situations than just training animals. I should know. Going back to kindergarten recently helped me.

To give a bit of context, from February until about mid-August, I experienced a continuous downward trend on my weight and waist measurement. It was the greatest feeling in the world. It attributed my success to various healthy habits– a perfect morning routine which included exercise, meditation, and journaling, moving throughout the day with various exercises in addition to a daily workout, logging everything I ate and staying within reasonable calorie/macronutrient counts, and of course, getting 8 hours of sleep every night. My success and feeling great reinforced my efforts to continue eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising.

My Personal Double-Whammy

Then a couple things happened together.

#1- I started experiencing the most uncontrollable cravings during certain phases of my cycle (primarily right at ovulation and continuing until my menstrual phase, which oddly enough during that time the cravings completely went away). It was like my brain and willpower shut down and the trigger to eat all the things amped up to 11. I didn’t feel I had any control. Nothing seemed to help. I would literally cook a treat from ingredients we had on hand so I could devour it. It was a very frustrating period (no pun intended).

#2- I began experiencing symptoms associated with over-training. Fatigue, irritability, no satisfaction or mood enhancement after a workout, constant hunger, insomnia, the list went on and on.

I didn’t know what to do about #1, nothing seemed to work. But I felt #2 was something I could tackle. And who knew, maybe by tackling #2, it would somehow alleviate the frustration from #1. So, I deliberately held back on my workouts. Brought the intensity level down a lot, and reduced my exercise in general.

For me, this plan backfired a great deal. I started gaining weight, and my insatiable late-night snacking got worse.

Something’s Gotta Change

Plan A did not work. I had hit the proverbial wall, and I felt stuck. And I was losing momentum from cutting out a lot of my working out. To make matters worse, my late-night munchies was affecting my sleep. I went from 8 hours to 6 hours seemingly, well, overnight. Even though I knew sleep deprivation would affect my willpower and motivation, but each night I made a solemn oath to not eat late, I ended up eating way more than I intended.

I implemented a reinforcement schedule, allowing myself to earn a massage if I went 10 days without late-night snacking. No good. At wit’s end, I admit I thought I needed to start over.

Thankfully, my trainer’s brain kicked in and stopped me just in time before I made an error that often derails people on their fitness journey. I didn’t have to go all the way back to the beginning and start over again. I just needed to go back a few steps and get back on a right path. Find my way around the wall.

Focus on What’s Important Now

So I’ve created a bright line system, and lowered some of my criteria in many other areas for my energy, work, and even love goals. I don’t have to complete a certain word count, don’t have to meditate for 30 minutes every day (5-10 is good enough for the time being), and I don’t have to do a workout with Chris every day (although I’ve noticed I enjoy them more when we exercise together). I have only two bright line tasks.

#1- Stop whatever I’m doing and go to bed at 10pm. Didn’t brush my teeth? Don’t worry about it for tonight. Didn’t get my yoga or stretching? Do it tomorrow. Haven’t reached my desired word count? Tomorrow is another day. Shut computer down (if it’s on) and go to bed once 10 pm rolls around.

#2- Eating window between 10 am- 4 pm. I log my food and try to meet my macro-goals, but it’s not important right now. Just focus on getting back to the 10-4 eating window. Especially that 4 pm stopping point.

So, I’d like to see some other healthy habits take hold from just these two hard stops. I’d love to incorporate a Miracle Morning (Zoo-notable coming super soon, I promise, just know the Miracle Morning could be a game-changer for me). It would be super nice to nip my YouTube addiction in the bud as well.

I believe going a little easy on other aspects of my protocol and going back to these simple steps will help me gain momentum and get back on track. By going back to kindergarten, I’m moving forward.

What’s Your Brick Wall?

Have you hit a wall in your fitness? A plateau, a setback you can’t seem to recover from, or another obstacle? Perhaps you need a new plan, a different path to swerve around it. Try going back a few steps and look at the issue from a different point of view. Going back to kindergarten can give you a new perspective on a challenge.

What are some ways to avoid a brick wall? What other ways can you approach your problems you are facing? Go back to kindergarten and keep moving forward.

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