Here we go again, New Year, New Me, this year I’m going to….
I have never been a New Year’s Resolution kind of person, I don’t believe in big resolutions, I believe in small steps, but that’s me. Other people find the start of the New Year refreshing, they feel like they are getting a clean slate, that it’s time for a do over. December is a kind of no man’s land, it’s a buffer between the old and the new where we fill up on cheese, wine and tourtiere and our exercise is stomping through shopping malls carrying bags of gifts and wine and cheese!
We repeat that New Year New Me mantra in our heads out loud, “January I’m going to get back in the gym, January, I’m going to fill my fridge with healthy food, January I am going to get my arse to bed by 9pm. “ And many of us do start the year off right, the gyms are full, your belly feels nourished with loads of veggies, and you power through that 30 day challenge and feel super empowered for about 2 weeks and then old habits start to call your name, winter drags and chocolate is too delicious, that tv show begs to be watched and you start to slip off the wagon.
Very few people ever end up sticking to their New Year’s resolutions through the long haul and that’s usually because the approach is overwhelming and unrealistic and you didn’t have a support system in place to make it through the tough times. Many people think they have to start something new on a Monday or the New Year, because it feels like a new beginning. There’s also the tendency to think that once all the stressful stuff is out of the way, that’s when you can get back on track. This idea that starting has to be done at a certain time, or that your life has to be settled before you can successfully do something has some merit to it but at the end of the day, if life being messy means you can’t adjust your habits, then you won’t be able to stick with those habits when life gets messy again.. And it will get messy, stressful, and busy again.
Let’s talk specifically about exercise because that’s my area of expertise, there’s a lot to unpack here.
How do you succeed in creating a healthy exercise habit?
With exercise, it takes discipline to succeed through the long haul. There is no point starting a 30 day challenge and then going back to doing nothing afterwards, exercise must become a habit, a non-negotiable and part of your life for the rest of your life. That doesn’t mean there won’t be ups and downs, of course there will be times where you get to the gym 4 times a week every week but then life comes up and you have to reduce that to 2 times a week or take a little break entirely because of illness or injury. Discipline is your ability to do the hard work in less than optimal conditions. Maybe it means reducing the time spent at the gym one week because you have a lot to juggle but it doesn’t mean abstaining entirely.
How does this apply to the New Year’s Resolution Mentality?
Most of the time, resolutions are too big, too unrealistic, they are viewed as a quick fix sprint to the finish line, not a long haul marathon. You need to start slower so you can finish strong but most people start out sprinting and burn out quickly.
So how then, do you make a New Year’s Resolution that you might actually stick with?
STEP 1: Understand that improving any area of your life is not a temporary fix. Stay away from the 30 day challenge and just concentrate on building on what you are already doing. Break your goal up into manageable steps or progressions.
You haven’t exercised since Jane Fonda leotards were the height of active wear fashion. Telling yourself you are going to start going to the gym 5 days a week for an hour is just not a sustainable goal. Instead start with 1 to 2 days a week and get that habit ingrained into your routine. It may take a few months but that consistency and discipline will help you add on when you are ready.
STEP 2: Make a resolution that is fueled by internal success rather than external acceptance (weight loss for approval-not for health). Exercise because it will make you feel better both physically and mentally not because you want to achieve a certain body type or look good for someone’s wedding, etc.
You have anxiety/depression and are a little overweight; your doctor tells you to start exercising to help with your mental health and weight loss. You make yourself go to the gym because losing weight is your main motivation but within the process you discover that your symptoms of depression and anxiety are drastically reduced. You discover that the best part about exercising are the endorphins and the blast of confidence you get from finishing a workout and getting stronger.
STEP 3: Find the right kind of exercise for you. You don’t have to spend hours on a treadmill each week or go to every HIIT class available. Try out many options and choose the one that feels right for you. Strength Training is an optimal place to start, because it prepares your body for other activities that might help you reach your goals.
You hate all things exercise and can’t be arsed to go to gym, you need to look for alternative types of movement. For example, did you know there is a drumming fitness class called POUND? There is no shortage of dance cardio classes, or even get yourself into an adult karate class. Think about the sport(s) that you enjoyed the most (or hated the least) when you were young, and revive the hobby.In Montreal, we are blessed with parks a-plenty for skating and skiing throughout the winter and easy access to cheap equipment rentals. You just have to get off your butt.
STEP 4: Get yourself some professional help. No really, the worst thing to see at a gym is someone using youtube or tiktok as a means to learn how to strength train. While there is a plethora of excellent information out there, if you don’t know how to weed out the good vs the bad advice or demo videos, you are setting yourself up for an inefficient workout and/or an unsafe workout. As a trainer, going to a commercial gym, I have seen many very fit looking people doing very incorrect/ineffective movements, so don’t assume that someone who looks like they know what they are doing, actually knows what they are doing. Invest in Personal training or Small Group (Semi-Private) training, that way you get individualized workout programs and the attention you need to thrive in the gym safely.
You’ve read that strength training is beneficial to premenopausal women and you want to start lifting weights but you have never lifted more than a 2 lb dumbbell in your life. Find a trainer or a small group training program that specializes in strength training. You want a trainer that understands your starting point and how to gently ease you into this new activity rather than one that forces you into doing things that are uncomfortable/painful solely for gains.
STEP 5: Find a support system to keep you accountable. Accountability will help with discipline and that is the number one factor for success because when the New Year New Me motivation wears off, discipline and accountability will see you through.
Example: You and a coworker decide it’s time to get fit, so you join a gym or studio together and make exercise dates each week to help each other go. You walk/drive together and enjoy the conversation, you commiserate over the tough workout together and share laughs throughout. You leave each workout fueled by endorphins from the workout but also the social interaction.
The best support system I ever had were a few exceptionally awesome gym buddies. Trying to force yourself to class after a rough day of work can be too much to manage but if you’ve made plans to meet a friend there, you don’t want to let them down (and yourself) so you go and the more you go the easier it becomes to eventually get there by yourself.
**If you don’t have a coworker or friend to workout with, hiring a Personal Trainer can help immensely with accountability and your success. Joining a small group training program where you set your schedule and pay for a month in advance can also help keep you on track.
Whether you resolve to become a better version of yourself this year or next Monday, use these steps to make it worth your while. At the end of the day you just have to get out there and do it! Don’t worry about failure, if you don’t like the gym, try something else, just make sure you make your activity resolution a non-negotiable in the most realistic way possible. Find a support group/friend/community of people who have similar goals. Remember that in the long run, the things that are hard today will most likely be what you cherish the most later on.
Finally, understand that most people don’t initially LOVE exercising, and we don’t love it all the time. Today, I am struggling with the motivation to do my workout even as I write this but will I do it? You Bet! Because the reward for doing the workout is a better attitude, a stronger body and an overall better quality of life and the consequence for skipping it is a smidge of guilt and a little less patience with my kids today but over time…it adds up to slower progress, a more negative perspective and a less healthful existence.