Every January, hordes of New Year’s resolutioners flock to local fitness centers in the hopes of losing weight and getting fit, knowing this year they’re going to make it a permanent part of their routine. Many of these motivated individuals are no longer exercising regularly by February, and most never make it a permanent part of their lifestyle. Unfortunately, failure is the typical outcome of setting a New Year’s Resolution, but there are ways to avoid the most common result.
Most people fail at achieving their New Year’s Resolution because they rely on motivation as their only catalyst for change. Motivation is a fleeting feeling of empowerment and self-confidence that is useless over the long term. Motivation comes and goes, rises and falls, because it is an emotion.
The foundation of behavior change should never be laid with bricks of motivation, although it can help you get to work on building the foundation. The building blocks of behavior change (and achievement of your New Year’s Resolution) should be habits and discipline.
While motivation fluctuates in intensity over time due to a multitude of external and internal factors, solidified habits and discipline are the mainstays that keep you going when you lack motivation. Lack of motivation isn’t a factor in the accomplishment of your resolution if you develop habits and discipline.
In talking with people about achieving their wellness related goals, I’ve found changes in motivation to be a consistent contributor to failure to reach goals. Many people do well for a short period of time, but fail to make a lifelong commitment to achieving their resolution because they are powered solely by (inconsistent) motivation.
To create change that lasts a lifetime, you have to transition into the maintenance stage, when good habits are second nature. When a good habit becomes a part of your everyday life, motivation isn’t as important to your success. Even if you’re not feeling motivated, you’ll still exercise or eat right because it’s part of who you are and because you have the discipline to do whatever it takes to meet your goal.
Many people set a goal of getting ‘in shape’ as their New Year’s Resolution. Getting in shape means different things to different people, but most want to lose weight by eating better and exercising more. If your goal for 2016 is to get in better physical shape, you’ll need to break down the processes that will have to take place in order for you to meet your goal. Many tasks must be completed daily over a long period of time to achieve healthy weight loss, which is a tough prospect to tackle mentally. If you single out specific tasks (processes) that will help you reach your goal and focus on making it a habit, you’ll be much more likely to succeed than if you take on multiples processes at once.
If you want to set some habits in stone for 2016 to lose weight and feel better through appropriate exercise and nutrition, follow these steps (Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider):
1. Exercise for six weeks without adjusting the foods you eat. Don’t worry about changing any other aspect of your life; just get in aerobic exercise 3-7 days per week for six weeks, without fail. By the time you reach six weeks of consistent exercise, you’ll see positive results and likely will have created a habit.
2. After you’ve completed six weeks of aerobic exercise, add resistance training in some form. You can try body weight exercises, band exercises, or even free weights/machines. If you’re apprehensive, just do body weight squats a few times per week. Complete 4 more weeks of aerobic AND resistance exercise, without changing your diet or any other aspect of your life.
3. After you’ve completed 10 weeks of consistent exercise, you will have experienced the positive returns associated with exercise and will continue the habit. Now you can make SMALL adjustments to your diet. Don’t do anything drastic, because drastic behavior changes are extremely difficult to sustain over the long term. You may have already met your weight loss goal via the caloric deficit created through strictly exercise. However, if you would like to lose more weight you’ll have to create more of a caloric deficit. Decreasing your daily calorie intake by 250 calories, coupled with exercise, will allow you to continue losing weight. You can use a calorie tracker to meet your calorie deficit or just eat less until you are consistently losing 1-2 pounds per week. Sustain these dietary changes for 6 weeks.
4. By now, you’ve sustained 16 weeks of exercise and 6 weeks of small dietary changes. These habits have likely become permanent, with a few slip-ups here and there. Once you have mastered these life skills, you can focus on other factors that impact health and fitness. These include: getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, improving flexibility, and improving mental health. Regular exercise will improve many of these functions; particularly sleep quality, stress levels, and mental health.
These steps will get you started in reaching your health and wellness goals and will help you in creating long-term habits conducive to the achievement of your New Year’s Resolution. The key is to focus on one task at a time, instead of trying to change all of your health behaviors at once, to achieve your goals for 2016.