By Dave Ongie
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series on keeping your New Year’s resolutions.
According to U.S. News & World Report, about 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions are history by the second week of February. For that reason, resolutions have become a running joke for a lot of people who strive to make changes every year only to end up throwing in the towel a mere six weeks into the New Year.
But Dr. Karen Cassidy, the medical director for UnitedHealthcare of Tennessee, says the start of a new calendar year is an excellent time to turn the page, break bad habits and establish new ones.
“We do often see people falling very quickly off their New Year’s resolutions,” Cassidy said. “I think New Year’s resolutions can be a positive thing, but I think you have to be very thoughtful going in on how you’re going to set your goals.”
Weight loss is at or near the top of the most popular resolutions each year, and that leads to a flood of new faces entering gyms and health clubs each January looking to establish or restart a workout program. If you are among those who resolved to be more active and you’re already starting to feel discouraged, Cassidy says it could be a result of setting an ambitious long-term goal without mapping out a detailed, realistic path to get there.
“We set these enormous, seemingly insurmountable goals, and then we get frustrated when we’re not making great progress,” she said.
When Cassidy makes a resolution, she says she tries to map out some small, achievable goals to get her going and keep her motivated. Depending on a person’s starting point, the first step toward fitness may not be into a gym at all – it might be out the front door for a lap or two around the block.
“I would love to see people make the goal that they’re going to get out and walk every day,” Cassidy said. “Over time, walking and increasing that activity level will impact your health.”
For those who are ready to tackle higher impact workout programs, here are some tips from the experts in order to make sure your foray into fitness isn’t just a passing fancy.
1. Settle in for the long haul
Ryan Gouge, a personal trainer at The Wellness Center, reminds his clients that the journey to fitness isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon, and the bigger the goal, the longer the journey.
“The thing is, it didn’t take you one month to get there,” Gouge said. “It didn’t take you one month to gain the 30 pounds, so you’re not going to lose it all in one month. Don’t make (your goal) so unattainable that if you don’t reach it right away, you’ll give up.”
Gouge recommends setting up a series of stepping stones – small, measurable goals that you can check off along the way – that will help you chart your progress. Those goals should be achievable with some hard work, but not insurmountable. By continually adjusting these targets upward, you’ll soon find yourself moving steadily down the road toward fitness.
Amy Mooney, who also trains clients at The Wellness Center, said anyone who walks into a gym should already be checking one item off his or her list.
“Getting their foot in the door is the first and the hardest step,” Mooney said. “Once they’ve done that, I feel like they are already achieving a goal.”
2. Have a plan, and make it fun
You don’t have to be an expert in exercise or have a personal trainer in order to develop a productive workout plan that is tailored for you. Most gyms offer plenty of guidance for newcomers, and it is often available to members for no extra charge.
For example, Tammy Adolph – the general manager of Lifestyle Fitness Centers – said every new member is given an evaluation to determine his or her baseline fitness. A trainer then develops a structured program suited to the client’s abilities, and the fitness evaluation can be repeated every 90 days to help the client map his or her progress and adjust the fitness program accordingly.
Adolph said Lifestyle’s offers these services for no additional charge in an effort to retain customers.
“The plan we map out for new members is crucial to their long-term success,” she said. “Most people get started on a fitness program somewhere, and if they don’t have guidance, if they don’t have any direction, and if they don’t know what to do, they stop coming because they are not getting results.”
If weights and treadmills get monotonous, Cassidy suggests you find a way to blend in something you enjoy in order to pass the time and stay in your routine.
“If it’s hard for you to go out and do that walk, try to do that walk while maybe you listen to a book on tape you really love on your phone,” she said. “Trying to have some kind of reward or pleasure in the system when you’re changing that habit can be helpful.”
3. Be accountable
Even with a solid plan, odds are good that you’ll lose your motivation if you take your fitness journey alone.
“My best piece of advice is have someone to hold you accountable,” Gouge said. “That way, you always have to report back to them. If it’s just themselves, they’ll say, ‘Oh, I can blow it off,’ but if they have to report to that person, then they’ll be more likely to stick to that program.
“You’re less likely to come in on your own than you would be if you have a buddy waiting for you at the gym.”
If you don’t have a workout buddy, Cassidy suggests telling members of your family about your goals can be an effective way of building accountability. Also, Cassidy says keeping a journal of your progress is a proven way to keep yourself on track.
But at the end of the day, maintaining the motivation necessary to turn a resolution into a reality has to come from within. Mooney said a daily reminder of the “why” behind a goal is the most powerful tool in a person’s toolbox.
“It’s very personal, so I try to find what they are struggling with in life and we try to tackle those things head-on so we can move those mountains out of the way, or at least start climbing them,” Mooney said.