The New Year serves as an opportunity for many of us to evaluate our lives and implement necessary changes to become fitter and healthier.
In fact, a recent YouGov survey found that exercising more or improving one’s fitness was the most common resolution for 2024, with 56% of people planning to implement this change.
Despite good intentions, many people struggle to stick to their New Year goals; a staggering 43% of people anticipate that they will abandon their resolutions by February, according to a survey by Sundried.
With this in mind, Harry Wilkinson, a sports science expert at Bulk.com, has shared his top tips for making achievable health and fitness resolutions that you will be able to stick to all year round.
- Be clear on the why
One of the most common reasons that people fail to stick to their health and fitness resolutions is actually quite simple; they lack a clear understanding of why they are pursuing them.
In order to successfully sustain and commit to a significant lifestyle change, it is crucial to have a strong sense of purpose. This sense of purpose can help provide the necessary motivation and passion to overcome obstacles along the way, or times when you find you have low self-will.
Therefore, it is essential to ask yourself specific questions about the desired change. How will it enhance your life? What will your life look like as you strive towards this goal? And most importantly, what will it look like once you have achieved it?
The challenge with long-term goals is that the difficulties and sacrifices are often experienced in the present, while the rewards are reaped in the future.
By truly understanding the underlying reasons behind your goal, you can make the present challenges more manageable. Asking yourself these thought-provoking questions and delving into the reasons why you want to achieve your goals, can ignite a spark of motivation when you need it most.
Don’t give up after one setback
It is common to adopt an ‘all or nothing’ mindset when it comes to setting and maintaining resolutions, such as telling yourself to exercise every day or cutting out certain foods entirely.
In reality, setbacks will happen and are a part of human nature, so it is important not to give up at the first hurdle. One mistake does not equal failure, especially in terms of long-term goals like sticking to a fitness routine or healthy eating.
Just as you cannot achieve your fitness goals with one day of healthy eating, you will not undo all of your hard work with one day of deviating from your diet.
Consistency over the long haul is key to bringing about lasting change, and the ability to bounce back from setbacks is an essential aspect of resilience. Progress is the goal, not perfection.
By recognizing that setbacks are a natural part of the journey towards achieving our goals, we can adopt a more realistic and sustainable approach. Rather than viewing setbacks as failures, we should see them as opportunities for growth and learning what works and what doesn’t.
- Be specific and realistic
Research shows that setting specific goals increases the likelihood of sticking to them. It is also important to consider your personal circumstances when setting goals.
For instance, if you are not a morning person, committing to going to the gym every morning is unlikely to be sustainable. However, if you specify that you will go to the gym a few times a week in the evening, you are more likely to follow through.
According to James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, creating a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform a behavior increases the chances of sticking to it. This concept is known as ‘implementation intentions.’
To put this into practice, you could say something like: ‘During the next three months, I will engage in 45 minutes of resistance training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings at the gym.”
Psychologists refer to these specific plans as implementation intentions because they outline how you intend to implement a particular behavior. However, it is crucial to note that follow-up research has found that implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time.
Realism plays a significant role in the achievability of your goals, taking into account personal limitations such as financial constraints, physical abilities, and situational factors.
For example, someone who is not accustomed to running and sets a goal to run five times a week, is likely to experience burnout. Within a few weeks, they may struggle with muscle soreness and fatigue, leading to missed sessions, demotivation, and ultimately giving up.
Therefore, it is important to reevaluate your goals. Setting a goal of running five times a week right away may be unrealistic, but aiming for two or three times a week is more feasible. Although this may seem like less volume initially, it is still more than attempting five times a week for a couple of weeks and then giving up for the rest of the year.
Following a tailored professional plan is a good way to progress. For running, Couch to 5k is a great one for beginners, while more advanced runners may benefit from a race-training plan.
- Don’t make too many changes at the same time
People who try to take on multiple goals at the same time are less committed and less likely to succeed than those who focus on a single goal. Since willpower and energy are finite resources, it is crucial to be mindful of how we allocate them to avoid burnout.
In addition to pursuing our goals, we still have responsibilities such as work, studying, parenting, and socializing. Therefore, making even a single change to our routine requires a significant commitment.
Nonetheless, if we remain steadfast in our dedication to our ‘one thing’ for a sufficient period of time, the behavior pattern becomes ingrained in our routine, requiring minimal willpower to complete. It becomes second nature, an unconscious pattern of behavior known as ‘automaticity,’ as described by researchers.
What is automaticity?
Automaticity is the ability to perform a behavior effortlessly, without the need for conscious thought at each step. This skill is only attainable through extensive repetition and practice. You may have come across the notion that it takes approximately 66 days to form a habit. While this number may seem arbitrary, it is actually based on thorough research and studies.
Once a habit becomes ingrained and automatic, it requires minimal effort to maintain it, freeing up your energy to develop new habits. This process can be repeated, allowing you to add one habit after another to your repertoire. So remember, when you meet people who effortlessly exhibit multiple healthy habits, it is not necessarily because they possess greater resilience or strength than you. It is likely because they have gradually formed these habits over time, aligning them with their available energy resources.
In the pursuit of personal growth, it is crucial to remember that your journey is unique to you. Avoid comparing yourself to others and refrain from judging your progress based on someone else’s. Your day one should not be measured against another person’s day 1,000.
- Don’t rely on motivation alone
Motivation is the driving force that sparks the initial excitement that compels you to reach for your notepad and hastily jot down your dreams. The feeling of endless possibilities that accompany this newfound desire is truly exhilarating. In that very moment, you feel invincible, ready to conquer the world. However, dreams alone are not enough to bring them to fruition; they require a solid plan of action.
Unfortunately, motivation often faces challenges in the face of day-to-day life. Whether it’s waking up after a restless night’s sleep or returning home from an exhausting day at work, there will be times when you simply don’t feel like pursuing your goals. This is perfectly normal, but how do you overcome it?
During moments of abundant motivation, seize the opportunity to establish the necessary logistics and routines that will enable you to take action towards your goals. When that inevitable moment arrives and you lack the motivation to proceed, the momentum and rhythm you’ve built through repetitive action can serve as the driving force to keep you going. To facilitate this process, it is crucial to minimize any barriers that may hinder your progress.
For instance, let’s say your goal is to run three days a week in the morning. A practical example would be to lay out your running gear next to your bed the night before. By doing so, even on a morning when you wake up feeling stressed and rushed, the additional effort of rummaging through your drawer to find a pair of shorts won’t become a stumbling block. By eliminating as many obstacles as possible, you significantly increase your chances of automating the process and achieving your desired outcome.