Raise a virtual hand if you’ve made a health or fitness resolution this past holiday season. Now, keep them up if you’re still on track to reach your goals. I can hear the sound of collective hands being lowered! It’s no secret: New Year’s resolutions are tough to maintain.
January is over, and we know that many of you (including myself) made goals or resolutions at the beginning of the year for losing weight, eating better, or achieving better health in general.
The thing is (surprise!) that New Year’s resolutions don’t really work. But the simple question is, why? Why do so many people join a gym in January only to stop going in February? How do you become one of “those” people who stay committed into February through December and beyond?
In my experience as a personal trainer and from speaking with many people about challenges they face when sticking with a fitness program, I’ve identified the most common mistakes that are made when creating a fitness resolution.
From these mistakes I’ve outlined three secrets to help you overcome challenges, avoid the pitfalls that cause resolutions to die, and set yourself up for long-term success.
It is important to note, however, that everyone is guilty of falling off the wagon at some point in regards to a goal or resolution we’ve made. So first, let’s first forgive ourselves and move on!
Secret #1: Change Your Thinking to Keep a Positive Attitude
Having the wrong attitude or “why” for starting a fitness program can have a negative impact on your success. This includes negative self-talk and thinking, such as, “I want to lose weight because I’m fat.” “I hate the way I look.” “I’m too out of shape to exercise properly.” We’re probably all guilty of doing this at some point.
Instead, change your thought process to a positive one about how you’ll feel when you achieve your resolution, and continue to repeat this mantra in your head over and over when the work gets hard and you’re tempted to quit.
For example, say to yourself, “I can’t wait to go boogie boarding on vacation this summer!” “I will have a blast playing with my kids outside this spring since I’ll be able to keep up with them!” “I want to feel strong on the inside and out!”
This also includes your attitude towards the activity you’re doing. If you hate the weight room at the gym, you’ll be quick to find a way to stop going. So find something that you enjoy doing – a dance class, tennis lessons, an at-home workout, running outdoors, etc. Don’t be afraid to try something new, too, as you may have to go a few times to get the hang of it to really start enjoying the workout.
The more you connect exercise and healthy living with a positive feeling about yourself, the more likely you will be continue your routine.
Secret #2: Master Accountability & Specificity – in Small Steps
Let’s say that you changed your attitude and started feeling super pumped about enjoying the many health benefits from starting an exercise program. You joined a gym, but after a couple weeks you find yourself skipping down to once a week until you eventually stop going. Now, what happened?
More than likely, it was the lack of accountability and specificity. How do those play into keeping up your resolution?
Accountability comes in many forms. Some people are naturally self-motivated and can keep themselves on track or get themselves back on track by simple joining a gym and paying for a membership.
Some people need an outside accountability partner, in the form of a friend, personal trainer, coach, or online program. I know many people that sign up for 5K races or half marathons in the spring/summer so they can stay motivated to train during the winter. You know yourself better than anyone, so what kind of accountability do you need to keep going?
Specificity is important in any goal that we make as we determine beforehand exactly what we want to accomplish and how we will accomplish it. It’s determining that you will go to the gym four times a week from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and do strength training 2 days and cardio the other 2 days in order to lose the 10 pounds of body fat. If you just have the goal of “going to the gym” or “getting in shape,” you don’t have any way to track yourself.
Remember, accountability and specificity work hand-in-hand. If you don’t know where to start, that’s where a personal trainer comes in as a valuable tool to set you up with the specific exercises, frequency, and intensity to help you achieve the goals you want. Don’t feel like you have to figure it out – there are plenty of tools and resources, at your health club or even online, to help you with a specific plan.
It is important to note that you don’t want to start too many new things at once or you risk burnout. It’s generally best to start off by slowly increasing your exercise frequency until it becomes a habit. It is just like if you signed up for a marathon – you would start off by running one mile, not 20!
Step #3: Stay Flexible to Stay on Track
Now imagine that you’ve set a positive outlook on what you’re doing and found accountability and specificity in the type and frequency of your exercise program. You are attending Zumba class twice a week and doing weights another 2 days a week at the gym.
Then – BAM! The solar systems seem to collide and you’re thrown off track. It snows and the gym closes early before Zumba. Next week, your workout buddy comes down with a cold. With kids, work schedules, weather… sometimes you can’t seem to catch a break!
Yes, there are legitimate instances when a break in exercise is needed, as in the case of health problems or an injury. But if we become so rigid to what we’re doing and a curve ball is thrown our way, do we give up altogether?
The way you handle unforeseen changes in plans will be the difference between a 2 month stint and making it a lifestyle change. If you can’t make it to your Zumba class on time, then have a go-to cardio routine handy that you can do with or without equipment (such as a bodyweight workout like the one we published last week).
If your day is packed with family activities, remember that even 20 minutes is better than nothing. If it snows and you can’t go for a run outside, stock a couple good circuit training DVDs in your house. And if your workout buddy flakes, find another person by ways of a trainer or group to keep you accountable. Always have a Plan B!
It’s very hard to have success long term without maintaining a positive attitude, getting accountability and specificity in the actions you are taking, and then remaining flexible when things happen out of your control. Wherever you’re at in your fitness and health journey, start with just a couple small changes in your habits.
Once those changes become part of your normal routine, continue to incorporate more healthy behaviors.
Cheers, to a healthy February and beyond!