Starting Fresh: Fitness for a New Year

 By: Jonathan Thompson

 The holidays are rife with stumbling blocks when it comes to your health and fitness goals. Not only is the food and drink traditionally enjoyed during your time with family and friends inherently terrible for you, but tradition also dictates that you indulge more than you otherwise would. After all, it’s a time of celebration, right?

Perhaps that is exactly why about one-third of all New Year’s resolutions revolve around weight loss. Here’s the sad truth, though: only 8 percent of people who make resolutions will actually follow through. That’s a startling 92 percent failure rate. But, what’s the problem? We know that we should be exercising more and eating better—especially after the winter revelries. So, why are so many resolutions doomed and what can you do to break the cycle?

The Root of the Problem
Consider this and answer honestly…. How healthy is your lifestyle during the rest of the year? It is a well-documented fact that behavioral change is a process that takes time to do properly. According to psychology experts, behavioral change happens in five stages. When decisions to change are made impulsively, for instance on New Year’s Day, the proper foundation simply isn’t there to make a lasting change.

The stages of change are:
Precontemplation – This is the point at which nothing is happening and you have no intention on changing. Many people may not even be aware that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Contemplation – The problem has been identified and you’ve started thinking about how to deal with it. Despite your attention to the issue, though, no commitment has been made and no plan laid out.

Preparation – At this stage, you have a plan of action and intend to get moving within the next month.

Action – Things finally start happening here and you are now taking steps to change. This could take the form of changing your habits, thinking, environment or any combination of the three.

Maintenance – Your focus during this stage is simply avoiding a relapse and staying focused on your new lifestyle.

Clearly lasting change is not the sort of thing that happens on the spur of the moment. You need to plan and make adjustments to your thinking long before you ever adjust your actions.

But readiness to change isn’t the only problem. According to Dr. Avya Sharma of the Canadian Obesity Network, people are not setting proper, realistic goals, which is a particularly destructive—and common—habit. Poorly designed goals can hurt you both in the short and long-term by setting you up for failure now and leaving you too discouraged to try again.

The Solution
So, now that we know what the real problem with New Year’s resolutions, how to do we solve it?

First, be ready to change. Really ready. Have a plan and get yourself excited for the changes that you’re going to make. Your action plan needs to include new healthy habits to replace your bad ones. This includes not just physical actions, but thought patterns—which are closely connected to each other. Deeply rooted neural pathways that act as the basis for every decision you make control your habits. Each time you think about these habits, their pathways are strengthened because your brain thinks that that’s how you want it to be programmed. Unfortunately, this happens even when you are thinking about not doing these things. Instead, you need to focus on your new behaviors, essentially retraining yourself and blazing new pathways in your brain. Be positive and know exactly what changes you’re going to be making, so that you can readily replace your old lifestyle with the new, healthier one.

When it comes to your goals, they need to be realistic, time-bound and measurable. For example, don’t say, “I want to lose weight.” Instead, say “I want to lose ten pounds in three months.” And actually say it. Out loud. To people. Letting other people know about your intentions will make you accountable and could even recruit others to your cause so that you build a support network for yourself.

Along the way to your ultimate goal you should reward yourself as well. If your plan is to lose ten pounds, then what about getting yourself a little gift when you hit the midway point of five pounds gone? Not only will this keep you motivated but it will help you to stay positive and think about what you’re gaining rather than what you’re giving up.

Ultimately, though, the secret to a successful New Year’s resolution is not making one at all. Instead of making impulsive decisions to change the course of your life for the foreseeable future en masse with millions of other people each January, make the process yearlong. There’s no reason to wait until New Year’s to make yourself who you want to be.