By Michael Krueger
Here we are in February, and already it’s easy to find an open spot at the gym. The treadmills that were so busy four weeks ago are now available to all comers. The weight benches and squat racks are open with no waiting.
Attendance at the aerobics and spinning classes have dropped off to the point where they are trying to consolidate some of the sessions.
None of this is a surprise, since it happens every year and for the same reason … bad timing.
Ready or Not
As the first of the year arrived, the resolutions kicked in and the gyms got busy. You could see all the newly purchased workout gear from shoes to electronics. So many new faces–some looking excited while others not so much. For the next couple of weeks, there was disappointment, resignation, anger, and maybe even a success or two.
Many of these people would have had a better chance of succeeding had they started in March or June. Instead, because of the accursed New Year’s Resolution, they began in the dead of winter, right after the holiday season, when it’s dark, the weather is cold, and moods are dreary.
Beginning any new venture is a lot of hard work, and for most people a new diet and exercise program is the hardest of all. Even those of us who have been exercising for many years often find it difficult to start something new in our training. I’ve known people who were regular exercisers who, right after the first of the year, decided to change their diet or exercise routines and failed in a few weeks. Why is that?
The short answer is that they just weren’t ready to take on the challenge. There are as many reasons people fail as there are people. Even if you have succeeded many times before, it doesn’t guarantee continued success in every new endeavor. It might be simply that you aren’t physically prepared or mentally ready. Perhaps your life circumstances aren’t conducive to any big changes right now. This time of year, it’s probably in part the arbitrariness of the New Year’s Resolution tradition that’s the problem.
Why It Matters
I’ve been accused of not being hard enough on my clients when it comes to making and sticking to goals. Maybe it’s true, but I have found that I can’t force anyone to stay on track. I can ask, I can cajole, I can offer strategies that might help, but it’s all up to the individual to make their dreams a reality. It doesn’t help for me to get in their faces when they’re already struggling.
The timing of goal setting can make or break the achievement of that goal. It’s pretty obvious that it would be a poor time to decide to lose 20 pounds if you know you are leaving in one week on a winter cruise with an open bar and unlimited food. Going on a diet only because someone tells you that you need to will rarely end in success. It doesn’t matter if it’s your doctor, your spouse, or your trainer. Big changes need to be your decision, for your reasons, and on your timetable.
Also, starting an outdoor running program in the dead of winter generally isn’t a recipe for success, even if you had been a runner in the past. The trio of cold, dark, and slippery isn’t particularly inspirational. Many times, people will decide to begin exercising in advance of a big event. It might be a wedding or a reunion or a fitness test. It doesn’t really matter what the event might be; the problem is that it’s not on your terms. For a big change in life to take root, it requires fertile ground and some advance planning.
Setting the Stage
You first need to know why you are making the change. This isn’t only for people who are just starting an exercise program; it applies to those who are well ensconced in a successful routine as well. The effort is the same if you decide to improve your workout or are just beginning it. It still involves dedication and commitment to that change, and that’s always difficult.
These changes could be as small as regularly packing a lunch to avoid overeating or as big as a complete overhaul of your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. On an everyday personal basis, they’re very hard, and if you underestimate how hard, you are going to fail.
So, think not only about what you want to do but how you are going to do it. What does this change entail? Do you need help, or is this something that you can handle by yourself? Have you already got the knowledge and the tools, or is this going to require some research? If this change is going to affect someone else (such as your spouse), even if just peripherally, you better be sure they are on board with it or you’ll encounter conflict and you will fail.
Be realistic about what you are doing. If you know from past experience that you have trouble sticking to a big plan, make it small and easily achievable instead. There is great power in knowing your limitations. I have a client who has decided to limit eating lunch outside of her office to only once per month. She went out with her staff on January 2; bad planning on her part. To stick with her plan, she would have had to go the entire month of January without outside lunches and, needless to say, it hasn’t worked. What she says she learned though is that in February she is going to save that lunch for when she really wants to go out. Unfortunately, she has her work cut out for her since the culture in her company is to eat out as a group at least once per week and sometimes even more.
So, is her plan realistic? Not particularly, and she will need to find out what really can work given her work/lunch environment. As time passes, I will check her journal and see how she is doing and what revisions she needs to be making. My guess is that she will eventually realize that her once-a-month goal is not going to happen, and that once per week is more realistic. In the meantime, I will work with her to make better food choices when she does go out. Only time will tell how successful she will be, but with a revised plan and timetable, my guess is she will do just fine … eventually.
What is “long term”? If you are 25 years old it means one thing, and if you are age 40 or older, it takes on a whole different meaning. As a firefighter, you might think about years to retirement and beyond. Personally, I think long term is tomorrow.
Because of that, I do what I can to make myself stronger, fitter, and happier today so that tomorrow is the tomorrow that I want it to be. I don’t know how much time I have left; no one does, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan for the next day/year/decade. The planning you do for the future and the work you do in the present come together to make your life what it is and what will be. If you are healthy, fit, happy, and strong today, you will be ready for whatever life throws at you tomorrow.
Be honest with yourself; are you at the peak of your physical and operational readiness? If not, what are you going to do about it, right now, today? Even if all you are ready to do is commit to change and formulate a plan, that’s a beginning and an investment in yourself and your future.
So, make a promise to yourself to begin with today…
…and tomorrow will take care of itself.
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.