By Michael Krueger
As much as I don’t care for New Year’s Resolutions, they are more or less a fact of American life. That said, they can be a useful tool if used correctly. The way to do that is to build on whatever you’ve accomplished over the years and learn from what did and didn’t work.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most common pitfalls, how they may have derailed last year’s resolutions, and how to avoid them this year.
Starting Out Too Fast
You have the knowledge you need to lose weight and get fit;, unfortunately, you want to do it all at once. One morning you get up early and do an hour of cardio. Then you eat the perfect breakfast, measuring every portion and writing it all down. Then at lunch you do the same: grams of protein, check; good fats, check; veggies, fruit, and water–you’ve hit all the marks. Come evening, it’s off to the gym. You pump iron for an hour and cool down with some walking on the treadmill.
You do this routine every day, and each day is better than the last. You tell everyone how great it’s going, how fantastic you feel, and that they should be doing it too. You have become an exercise evangelist and the self-appointed food police as well. You can’t wait for the payoff: a new body, a new attitude, a new life, and a new you.
Then on or about the seventh morning, your alarm goes off and it’s time to do it all over again … you hit snooze and go back to sleep. When you do wake up, you have some instant coffee. Then, on your way to work, you detour through the fast food drive-thru for grease and more coffee … you feel like a failure, and you try not to think about it.
You’re not a failure. You just tried to do too much too soon. It’s the most common cause of “exercise collapse.” It’s the most disheartening too. It’s a hard lesson to accept because we are an impatient people. But, the cure is actually really nice, if you can embrace it.
Take it slower. That’s all you need to do. Modify your diet a bit, and when that is more on track add in some cardio. Once you find a cardio mode that you can stick with, add in some weight training. You can do these things in any order and magnitude you’d like, but only make small changes and do them one at a time. After each is integrated into your life, add another, and soon you will have a consistently sustainable routine. Be gentle with yourself and take your time.
Living by Rote
Making changes in your habits is not easy. Most of what you do in your life has been relegated to habit. This isn’t always a bad thing, since if you had to think about every little thing you do in your day you’d get very little done. Problems arise when bad habits sneak in. You don’t notice, because you don’t think about them. You don’t think about them because they aren’t a priority in your life and they aren’t a priority because you don’t think about them.
Poor eating patterns and a sedentary lifestyle are two of the worse habits that have become ubiquitous to our culture. They are also two of the toughest to tackle. It can be difficult to eat well in our convenience-based, marketing-saturated culture. It’s also hard to get moving once you are settled in front of the TV or on a bar stool. They also attract many other bad habits that sneak in unnoticed and pull up a chair and settle in for the long run.
Living mindfully is the solution. You know what’s important to you, right? If you keep those items in the forefront of your life, making decisions based on your priorities, you’ll start to notice the habits that have crept in that are in opposition to your stated priorities and your goals. Once you are aware of them, you can address them.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort to live authentically.
Not Writing It Down
No matter how motivated you may be, there will be days when you won’t want to train and when making a nutritious meal seems like such a chore when fast-food would be so simple. These are the moments that even a quick glance at your handwritten goals can be a game changer.
Many people only keep their goals in their head, and that isn’t the place for them. They need to be kept front and center and in your face. If you don’t have a physical record of what you’re after, it’s easy to have a sort of reverse mission creep. You originally had a firm goal to lose five pounds by the end of the month. Now it’s three pounds by the end of the first week of next month. The written word will keep you honest even if it forces you to admit you’ve overreached and you need to realistically modify your goal.
Now, due to advances in technology, there’s an even better way to “write it down.” If you make a short video of yourself on your phone, you can play it for yourself when you are wavering or need a pep talk. Make it when you are feeling good and strong and have positive things to say. Make a couple videos for different situations if you want–one when you are feeling great and you want to feel even better and another for when you want to go out for wings rather than work out, to remind you that you really do want to train and that you can go out later if you still want to. You’ll remember making them, why you made them, and how you felt.
Always make any note to yourself a positive one. Even though you may think there are times you might need a drill instructor type chewing out, don’t do it. If you know that the message on your phone is going to be nasty and negative, odds are you just won’t listen to it. No one likes to be ragged at and will avoid that situation whenever possible. Instead, say encouraging things and remind yourself of your priorities. You’ll be much more likely to listen and take the message to heart.
There are many exercise programs out there, and there will be many more come the New Year. You may even be one of those people who tries every new plan that comes along. There will always be new nutritional advice and new training aids and fitness boutiques that are all guaranteed to be preaching the gospel truth. Trust me on this one: There are no miracles, and only hard work and discipline will lead to success.
Take what you already know and apply it in a systematic and consistent way, and you will build a case study that will really mean something to you. You’ll notice if you feel better eating in a particular way. You will see that you are getting stronger by lifting on a particular program. You will notice that you are sleeping better and performing better because you have eliminated processed carbs or increased good fats in your diet.
If you flit around following the advice from one expert or another, you will not accomplish anything other than causing confusion and uncertainty. If you listen to your infomercial-informed friends regarding what you “should be doing/not doing, eating/not eating,” you will in all likelihood fail.
If you don’t feel confident enough to formulate your own nutrition and exercise program, interview some experts and find those who listen to you and respect your goals and promote programs that make sense to you. There are many philosophies out there, and one will work with your goals, personality, and lifestyle. Whichever you try, give it a good trial (at least 8 weeks), and see where it takes you. If it works, stick with it; if not, figure out what’s not working and fix it.
Your body and mind are unique to you. What works for one won’t always work for another. Listen to yourself when something doesn’t feel right. Be willing to make changes as needed, but be strong enough and tough it out when it gets difficult.
Write down your goals and priorities, and make that video about what’s important to you so can refer to it when you need to be reminded. We all need a boost now and then no matter how successful we may be at the moment, and a personal message from the “excited, powerful you” to the “not so motivated at the moment you” can make all the difference.
Now, set some goals, make some plans, shoot your video, and confidently take on the New Year.
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 MKPTLLC@gmail.