That’s right, 88% of people will fail to meet their new year’s resolutions¹ and that stat is totally not surprising. Take the conversation I had last week with Richard, the guy who sits across from me at work (won’t be troubling any world class athletes just yet). He had just signed up to a gym chain under a 12 month contract for £50 per month.
Me: “How many times are you going to go to the gym this week Richard?”
R: “Going to go every day this week.”
Me: “How many times did you exercise in the WHOLE of last month?”
Up and down the country this January and February, you won’t be able to get a look in on the cardio machines because of people like Richard going crazy with their new resolutions. However, by the beginning of March, the flame of desire that was burning so brightly for many has dwindled to a flicker.
So how do you make your new year’s fitness resolution stick all year? I suggest that there are 3 steps to take and now is the ideal time to make some sensible choices:
Motivation is an important factor in making exercise part of your life and sustaining it. The above continuum is as really useful measure of your basic motivation. Have a look at the comments and see which one is most like you. Where do you fit?
Most people will fall somewhere in the Extrinsic motivation part of the scale. The further towards the left of the scale you are, the harder it may be to sustain an exercise habit so prepare yourself for that. And don’t despair if you fall towards the left hand side of the scale because as you start fitting in exercise back into your weekly routine, then you can move towards the right. If you have got the right mix of exercise into your week then you will start to feel the benefits and start actually wanting to train.
Guaranteed to fail is if the resolution is ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight.’ It is not specific enough. I prefer not to set targets about weight loss or fitness targets because they can actually become de-motivating if you are not on track or they become a real chore that limits enjoyment. Instead, I believe a resolution can be simplified into one simple target – enter an event. The event should be long/hard enough to be a challenge to you and should be slightly out of your comfort zone. Tell your friends and family you are doing it as well then it is harder to pull out as D-Day approaches.
My new year’s resolution in 2008 was to enter a triathlon. I was bricking it for weeks beforehand and really felt out of my comfort zone. I borrowed a bike, nearly got hauled out of the pool by the marshals but I finished it and the feeling of achievement at the end was simply amazing.
That single goal meant I trained 2 or 3 times a week from January through to May so I got fitter, felt less stressed and was generally happier as a result. So the by-products of doing a triathlon were where the real benefits lay.
We humans are creatures of habit, and studies suggest that 70% of our activities every day are habitual routines. Think about how you got to work this morning; shower, brush teeth, change, breakfast, journey to work….very routine and we do it every day. We need to turn our desire to exercise into a habit so we can sustain it beyond March.
The diagram below is a simple representation of how a habit loop² works and once we understand this, we can use it to hard-wire a desired behaviour into our own routine.
Let’s take our friend Richard. Richard has decided to enter a 10km run in June as his New Year’s resolution and, after our little chat earlier, is becoming more realistic and wants to train twice a week. Richard is also keen not to join the 88% club.
He decides that he will run on Monday and Thursday mornings before work. On Sunday night, he sets out his running gear by his bed and sets his alarm to get up at 6.30am. When he wakes up, the first thing he sees is his kit. This is his CUE. This triggers him to set off on his 5 km run and that is his ROUTINE. Back by 7.15am, Richard feels good and additionally REWARDS himself with a steaming hot Americano and a croissant. The reward is very important as it positively reinforces the behaviour.
Fit exercise into your week like Richard has done above, carry on doing this for a minimum of 10 weeks to allow enough time for it to become a habit and you will have a good chance of regularly exercising beyond March. Good luck!!
¹ Wiseman R, 2007, Study of new year’s resolutions (3,000 participants in survey)
² Adapted from Duhigg C, 2011, Power of Habit
by Jessica Ward
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