Keeping your New Year’s Resolution alive

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by Jimmy Yoo, MA Sport Psychology

As I enter the weight room at my local fitness center, I start my regular routine of scanning the room.  My first objective is to find the first available treadmill.  If they are all taken, I go to plan “b,” see if an exercise bike or elliptical machine is available.  The beginning of January, when dreams of ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ abound and are plenty, not one fitness machine is available.  The room is filled with energy and expectations of a healthier me.  But today, I notice that only ¼ of the exercise machines are occupied.  I then take a quick look at my watch to see that it is now almost the end of February.  Resolution season is coming to an end and many of my fellow gym rats that started the season with me, have more than likely succumb to old habits or have found a new reason why they don’t have time to include exercise as part of their daily or weekly routine.

Why is it so difficult to get our ‘new years resolutions’ to stick?
One reason that comes to mind is that we tend to think big, like dreams of losing that beer gut or wanting to look like a supermodel for summer.   A dream without a road map to get you there tends to be a fleeting thought.

How are people able to create a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ that is successful?  
So many times, our ‘new years resolution’ tends to be a lofty dream rather than an attainable goal.  It is good to dream big, but you also need to create a plan that makes your goal a reality.  Instead of setting an expectation of just losing weight, set a specific date, figure out what you hope to accomplish, and how you plan to do this.  When planning your goal, remember to ask yourself when (set a deadline), what you want to accomplish, why is this important, how will I do this, and who can help me.

For example, by July 4th (when) my goal is to make it a habit of exercising and being active at least 3-5 days a week (what) so that I build muscle, lose weight, and feel healthy (why).  To successfully accomplish my goal, I will work with a trainer (who) to create a training plan that will allow me gradually increase my strength and endurance (how).

Long-term and short-term goals
It is great to have a long-term goal, but it is also important to have monthly or even bi-weekly goals / milestones.  For example, every two weeks, I plan to run more and walk less each day, and by the end of the first month, I will increase mileage from 1 to 2 miles a day to 4 to 6 miles.

Daily Motivation
For many, the hardest thing to do is find the daily motivation to exercise.  If I decide to exercise after work, the excuse tends to be “I am too tired today, I will exercise tomorrow.”  This mindset can keep you from ever taking that first step out the door to exercise and it can also be the reason why we stop exercising.   That is why it is important to find motivation each day.
Using your 5 senses to motivate you each day:
Seeing is believing:  Create an image of what I want to accomplish versus how I want to look.  In our media driven society, everything is based off of looks.  For example, if I look like I have well defined muscles and perfectly chiseled abs, it means that I am in great shape, I am confident, and people will really like me.  This is probably the main reason why we fail.  Instead, let’s imagine how we look when we run (i.e., gliding across a field like a gazelle) or lift weights (i.e., perfect form, using my legs and not my back when I squat).  You can even post an image on the lock screen of your phone.  Every time you answer a text or take a break to play a game like Words with Friends, you will see an image that reminds you how good you feel during or after a workout.

Hear it:  Music is a powerful motivator.  It can make us feel excited, sad, energized, and relaxed.  Create your own exercise theme song or playlist.  For runners, music can help you keep a certain tempo or pace, and for lifting weights, music can get you excited or pumped up!

Feel it:  For this, let’s have different workout clothes for different activities.  You can have your outdoor running gear, your weight room gear, or maybe just have different shoes for running, working out, and playing a recreational sport like indoor soccer or basketball.  When I put on my workout apparel, I am suiting up and getting my game face on.  When I put on my running shoes and tie up the laces, I remind myself to run with grace while I feel the wind on my face.

Smell it:  For some, the first thing that may come to mind is what I smell like post-workout.  Some may find this inspiring because getting your sweat on or get your stink on means you had a good workout.  Also, remember to think about how good the fresh air smells when you run outdoors.  Lastly, I like to imagine what I will be eating post-workout and I imagine smelling the food I am going to eat.

Taste it:  When I think of taste, I am reminded of Kobe Bryant sucking the sweat off his jersey during games.  While this may be motivation for some, you could also think about rewarding yourself with food or drink after a workout.  Imagine how good a certain food or drink will taste after a workout.  Smelling and tasting something that I am about to earn as a personal reward can be a great motivator!

Other motivations:  Make a game of it by using a fitness band (set a target goal for number of steps each day), heart rate monitor (running or working out at a certain heart-rate), or GPS device (tracking the distance you cover on your run or workout).  The power of suggestion, one thing we do on a daily basis is to type a password to login to our computer.  Create a motivational password for the month to remind you why you want to exercise or stay active.  You can also hire a personal trainer to serve as your fitness coach or you can signup for workout classes.  It is harder to avoid a workout when we know that others are expecting us to be there.  Lastly, look for strength in numbers by joining a running group or by working out with friends.  By joining a group or working out with friends, you become each other’s motivation and it is a great way to socialize as well.

Overall, to develop and maintain a new habit, it is important to create tangible expectations with an end date.  You may get frustrated because you are not seeing the results right away, but believe in the process you have created.  Most of all, remember to motivate and inspire yourself each day by involving your five senses, finding one or more people to work out with, and by creating daily, weekly, or monthly mantras!

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