The storm from the holidays has passed. Presents have been opened, families have been gathered, and all of grandma’s shortbread cookies have been eaten. It’s now the start of a New Year, and everyone is looking for the perfect resolution to help them become a better version of themselves. And I’ll bet that at the top of most people’s list is to keep fit.
Every year in January, gym centres across America see an average increase of 12% in their annual memberships, with the second week of January being their busiest time. We all have good intentions: all the holiday potlucks are sitting heavy at our waistlines, so it’s no surprise that we want to trim a little off.
Unfortunately, by the second week of February, 80% of the holiday crowd drops off. This means that only 20% of those who purchased new gym memberships actually still use them in their second month.
Back when I was a student, I was part of this overeager crowd and always made it a resolution to “workout more often”. It was a very loose goal; no schedule to adhere to and no action plan created. I also had no way of measuring my success and didn’t develop a method to track any milestones achieved. It was inevitable that this resolution would fail. Sure enough, I was part of the group that dropped off the fitness world by the time February had rolled around.
So how can we change our behaviour?
In my experience, the best method of trying to keep fit (or stick with any kind of resolution) in the New Year, is to concentrate on four main things:
1. Big picture thinking
2. Small, Actionable Goals
3. Habit formation
1. Big Picture Thinking – To Keep Fit
When it comes to keeping fit and being healthy, you may be better off planning for the long haul compared to short-term planning. For example, right now my goal is to focus on muscle strengthening. Yours might be to improve your cardio to become a better runner. Whatever it may be, think of where you would like your fitness level to be at least a year from now, instead of just a few months.
Consider this big picture idea to if you just had a short-term goal, like running a 5k race.
To prepare for the race, you spend a few months training on the treadmill, buy the latest mesh neon colored shoes, and read about all the tricks and techniques in hopes of cracking the under 30-minute mark on race day. After finally crossing the finish line, you jump for joy, feel all the endorphins and relish in all the likes from the race selfie you posted online.
But what happens next? Do you go back to being a couch potato, judging all the girls on The Bachelor, never to lace up your running shoes again? Push the idea of running out of your head until next year?
Thinking of a long-term goal can help you more with continuous development.
2. Create Small, Actionable Goals
Within the big picture thinking, creating small, actionable goals are still important in order to help you achieve your long-term plans. They give you something immediate to work towards and help you stay focused on your target.
For example, taking the example again of becoming a better runner, a 5k race would be an excellent, actionable goal. However, after you would have finished the race, you would hopefully be still inclined to continue to run, because you made it your resolution to be a better runner. And in order to be a better runner or to improve on anything, the learning and development never stop.
So perhaps your next goal would be to run another 5k or increase the distance to a 10k.
When you think about the big picture and have actionable goals simultaneously, you end up creating an idea that is more sustainable for yourself; something that keeps you invested and motivated for the long term, not just for the next few months.
3. Habit Formation
It’s no surprise that Stephanie and I are big proponents of the book “The Power of Habit: What do in life and business” by Charles Duhigg. This book really breaks down what we do automatically into three components: ‘Cue, Routine, Reward’, and how they affect our behaviours.
A cue is something that triggers you do to do something automatically. In Stephanie’s past life as a compulsive donut eater, low blood sugar at 3 pm would cue her to take a break by going to the donut store. So if we really want to start keeping fit in the New Year, we need to figure out what our cue is in order to fully integrate exercise into our life.
Pick something you can always count on doing or happen daily for your cue. For myself, my cue is really simple: walking through my front door after work. After I step into my home, I automatically change into my gym clothes and turn on my music to Dr. Dre even before I have a chance to process what a long day I’ve had, sink into my couch (lazy couch article) and start the cycle of “I’m tired” excuses.
So pick a cue that works regularly for you.
However, in any new habit formation, the task to begin can be a bit daunting. For example, when I first started, it was overwhelming to wrap my head around a 30-minute session of burpees and mountain climbers, especially after dealing with a day’s work of emails, meetings, and commuting.
The best way to overcome this barrier was to actually start with a 10-minute workout. In this approach, I only had to bargain with myself to exercise for 10 minutes. Anyone can do anything for 10 minutes, right? If that seems too long, you can even consider the 1-minute exercise. For myself, the idea was that I would eventually work my way up to a longer workout when I felt comfortable. Now I have no problem doing a 30-minute sweat session the minute I get home.
Routine & Reward
The next part that follows is the routine: actually doing your exercise. Honestly, I think the cue is the biggest hurdle to overcome. So once you’ve changed into your tightest yoga gear (check pants to make sure they are not see through) and are ready to start squatting, this part should be easier in comparison. Even on days when I’d rather do anything than exercise, I’m actually always happier after a good sweat session and never regret doing it.
The final step of the habit formation is the reward. Here is where you get to check yourself out in the mirror, admire your hard work and relish in those sweet endorphins. Exercising is one of the greatest gifts you give to your body, and there really is no better reward than living a healthy lifestyle.
4. Stay Motivated
So how do we continue to stay motivated and energetic throughout our fitness journey? Everyone has their own motivators, whether it be using those activity tracker devices such as Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone to collect personal data, taking before or after photos or connecting through a fit community to meet like-minded individuals.
For myself, my main motivation has been to track my fitness journey the old school way. For the past two years, every month I have posted a blank, monthly calendar on my fridge. After each physical activity, whether it be swimming, taking a boxing class or doing yoga session, I have written it down on the calendar. This makes my progress easy to view and holds me accountable when I do an overview of my year-long progress.
Has anyone else decided to keep fit as part of your New Year’s resolution? What are some of your tips to start or maintain a new resolution?