By Michael Krueger
Here it is February already. The gyms have thinned out and the treadmills are easily available, as are the machines and the squat racks. The new faces from the first week of January are mostly gone, and the veterans have settled comfortably back into their routine.
So what is the difference between those who stay the course and succeed and those who don’t?
Resolutions vs. Planning
Resolutions of the New Year’s variety are capricious and mindlessly made, and semantically speaking just the word “resolution” is emotionally oppressive. The last thing most people need the first thing back to work and “normal” life after the holidays is a well-meaning, but poorly thought out, resolution hanging over their head. Changes are tough under the best of circumstances, and the cold dark days of January aren’t by any means the best of circumstances.
Odds are you may have gained a pound or two since Thanksgiving. It is doubtful that if you were “sort of” on an exercise and diet program that it survived entirely intact during those weeks. Successful long-term exercisers who understand and accept the difficulties inherent in the holiday season (and their own weaknesses) will often schedule some downtime or at least just maintenance workouts between Thanksgiving and the New Year; you may as well plan for it if is going to happen anyway.
Now that your “get fit, lose weight” resolutions are history, it is time to make a realistic plan for what you are going to accomplish over the next year. This is different from a resolution because it will actually be a well-thought-out personal call to action. Resolutions tend to be fuzzy little mission statements that are well intentioned but prone to downgrade and revision when they prove to be too difficult and are eventually discarded in favor of, well, nothing.
Your new plan, on the other hand, lays out specific steps that you will take to get to where you want to be. Sure, there will be revisions along the way, but they will be action-oriented improvements rather than mission slippage culminating in failure. The implementation of your plan may need adjustment, but the idea, desire, and drive behind it remain constant.
Your plan isn’t something you’re going to sketch out on a napkin at lunch. You will take some time to get it right. Be honest with yourself regarding how much time and effort you are willing to invest in your fitness. Review (and not just in your head, write it down) what has gone wrong in the past as well as what went right. Are you prone to grandiose ideas (remember that triathlon you were going to do?) with poor follow-through, or do you sabotage yourself with negative thinking and rehashing of past failures? What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses? Do you need a lot of support, are you social, or do you prefer to go it alone?
When done right, this planning stage should take a couple of weeks. You can’t do it all in one sitting. Once you think you have it down, put it away for a couple of days. Then when you take it out and read it you will know if it is doable or if it needs some work. Sometimes you can get caught up in the excitement of making the plan and after a little time you can see where an adjustment or two are needed.
Once you are done reviewing and are happy with your plan, set an implementation date. Make sure it gives you enough time to do everything that you may need to do beforehand. This might include buying shoes, clothes, and equipment or getting your schedule adjusted so that everything else in your life that needs to get done does not get ignored. This last point is a big one. If you just announce to the people in your life that you are going to do this without taking them into consideration, you are going to run into some severe pushback, particularly if a lot of extra work falls on them. Make sure everything is covered and everyone is onboard with what you are going to do.
Nuts and Bolts
So, you know what you want and have a plan to get there. Putting it all together in the real world can be a struggle even with the best-laid plans.
You probably overestimated the amount of time, energy, discipline, and support that you have. You more than likely underestimated the amount of effort and willpower that sticking to your plan is going to entail. You probably missed something in your planning phase that will make efficient execution of the plan more difficult than it might be. All of this is normal and will in all likelihood resolve itself with minimal effort on your part; really, it will. All you need to do is make notes regarding the problems and potential solutions and stay the course as written for 30 days.
You can’t make any changes to your plan for a month. You haven’t as yet got sufficient information to make good decisions regarding changes. Any change you made this early is likely to be based on the fact that the program is hard and you would rather do something else. Even if something seems to be a problem, you need to tough it out. The only exception to this rule is if you are experiencing any pain. I’m not talking discomfort, difficulty, fatigue, or general grouchiness. I’m talking pain.
Knowing that you have no choice but to stay on the plan for a month will take your head out of the game. This is not the time for your ego to get involved. Your ego wants to protect you from anything difficult or contrary to your precious little self-image. It will convince you to bail on the plan if you let it because it has no sense of perspective. It is only concerned about itself right now. So leave your head out of it, and follow your plan without change for 30 days.
You did it; you made it through the first 30 days. Now is the time review and decide what, if any, changes need to be made.
Odds are there will be very little that needs adjustment. Most of the problems that you noted in the first week or ten days evaporated over time. You got used to the changes in your schedule and your eating habits. Your weight lifting and cardio settled into a doable yet progressive routine. Your friends and family adjusted to your new eating, sleeping, and activity habits and have come to accept that you now spend a few hours per week working out.
You have also changed. You have learned much about yourself in these four short weeks. You feel better and are justifiably proud of what you have accomplished thus far. You set out on a difficult course and have made it through the most challenging part and are now setting sail on smooth waters straight toward your goals.
You are now a fitness athlete. You will find that you think more about what you eat and drink to fuel your body. You will find that sleep is more important than another round and a late night out. You will enjoy physical activities that you used to shy away from simply because they were too hard, even though deep down inside you desperately wanted to participate.
You are on the path that you always fantasized about–healthy, fit, strong, and happy
…and it only took 30 days of hard work.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at [email protected]