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How To Not Fail Your New Year’s Resolutions

January 15, 2018

Here’s the depressing part: Heaps of studies have shown that less than 10% of us are successful in keeping those resolutions. With a greater than 90% failure rate, I think it’s about time for us to agree that New Year’s resolutions just don’t work.

There are a few good scientific reasons why our resolutions don’t work. I read something extremely interesting in a Psychology magazine the other day which said that talking about what you’re going to do requires zero effort as compared to actually doing it, but the brain rewards us exactly the same. How crazy is that?! No wonder it’s hard to take action sometimes. Simply imagining ourselves doing something positive triggers the brain to release a small hit of the feel-good chemical dopamine so we get that good feeling without actually putting the work in.

Additionally, by labelling something a resolution that you’ve already failed at before, you’re reinforcing the fact that your brain is already against it. And it’s hard to play tricks on the brain. Trying to tell it that this new resolution is important just won’t work. The brain knows that if it were important, you’d be doing it already. For example, if you aren’t currently exercising, for you to tell your brain that exercising is a top priority is just silly—your brain is well aware that you’ve placed zero importance on exercising for the last few months, so why would it suddenly change and believe that exercising is important?

The good news is that it is possible to change our behaviour. But it takes more than an abstract January 1st declaration.

Instead, we must first motivate ourselves intrinsically. Be honest: Do you want to work out to look good or to live longer or to stay lean, look good naked (or in your clothes)? To be more confident? To stay healthy? Even if the answer is shallow, own it. Since you can’t trick your brain, the only way to make lasting change is to connect with the deeper meaning and motivation behind your goals. This takes being 100% honest with yourself. You might be able to delude other people but you can’t delude your own brain. Remember what I said above? It’s hard to play tricks on the brain. So you have got to be honest with yourself.

And here are my top tips for actually forming new training habits that will stick.

Start Small

One of the biggest mistakes that many of us do when we start something like exercising or healthy eating is to do way too much at the start. We have this all-or-nothing approach, which never works out very well.

There’s no doubt that in January our motivation to exercise and eat better is high and while these two things is definitely the right move, it might not be the best move if you’re just starting out.

Time and time again I see so many people begin a nutrition and training program only to abandon the plan a few weeks later.  The reasons they may abandon the plan are actually not that surprising.

To begin with, when people first start going to the gym, motivation is high, which results in doing a bit too much in the gym. When this occurs, it often results in extreme soreness and fatigue, which, if you aren’t prepared, can be a big shock.

Typically when this occurs, many people then assume that exercise will always result in this feeling, which often leads them to stop altogether.

Secondly, when you do too much, too soon, you really increase the risk of injury and lack of recovery which includes things like your immune system suffering. Imagine being insanely sore, not recovering well and then also getting sick or injured. That isn’t conducive to people wanting to stick to a plan.

Rather than listening to your motivation only, begin your exercise routine slowly and increase, as you are able otherwise you’ll risk being insanely sore and possibly even injuring yourself if you do too much. Start slowly and increase volume, as your ability improves then you can increase capacity.

Remember that you won’t change your body significantly from only one workout or even one week or one month. So there's no point being crazy and going overboard.

Keep A Training Journal

One of my favourite tips to give to just about anyone from beginners to more advanced trainees, is to start keeping some form of training journal. Doing so has a few benefits.

Firstly, when you keep a journal, you get to see where you’ve been and where your performance is now. Surely, since you’re just starting, your journal might not be full but in a month’s time, you’ll have logged tens of workouts..

With all of your previous information, you not only get to visualise your progress, which can motivate you, but you’ll also ensure that you’re actually progressing.

Progressive overload is a concept that essentially states that in order for continued growth (i.e. muscle growth, fat loss, fitness gains etc.) you need to stress your body a little more than you did the previous time. For example, if you’re always squatting the same weight for 10 reps, you can expect to never progress further than that.

By keeping a journal, you can look back at the last time you squatted, and then ensure that you improve via weight, reps, sets or some combination of all three.

Lastly, I’m a big fan of having a journal because you can have a clearly defined plan for what to do in the gym. By writing down your workouts ahead of time, you know exactly what I need to do, which ensures you will stay on track & avoid distractions.

Reward Yourself For Reaching Milestones Along the Way, Not for “going to the gym”

Many people simply reward themselves for exercising. Personally, I don’t believe that the act of exercising or a single workout is cause for celebration. While it’s certainly commendable to take action and begin working out, you need to understand the big picture and know that you’ll need to exercise religiously for years if you hope to have a physique or the strength & fitness you’re proud of.

It also keeps exercise from becoming a lifestyle habit when you constantly think of it a “special act”. (Think of it this way: Do you “reward” yourself and make a big fanfare out of the act of brushing your teeth? No, because it’s a lifestyle habit, which is what you want exercising to become.)

Rather than celebrating each time you workout, I suggest rewarding yourself for reaching small milestones along the way to your big goal. This is awesome for staying motivated.

For example, if you want to get stronger, I suggest taking a lift like the squat, bench or deadlift, and reward yourself when you hit major milestones. Perhaps that means a 5 or 10kg PB on the lift.

You could do it in workouts or runs too. I.e not being able to do a workout all the way thorugh, or a run without stopping and then being able to complete it in one go, in my mind, is worthy of a reward. Real, meaningful progress should be celebrated.

In this way, you recognise that you do have the ability to improve and so literally nothing is out of your grasp. This can be so beneficial for your motivation.

So rather than rewarding yourself for each workout, reward yourself for meaningful exercise milestones. Doing this will ensure you actually appreciate that you’re capable of achieving your goals.

Physically change your routine to fit exercising in

One of the number one reasons that New Year’s resolutions fail is simply because the change is not sustainable for your life and routine. If you’re serious about getting in shape in the New Year, you need to workout regularly, which means you’ll need to manipulate your schedule and actually make time for it.

There’s no denying that all of us lead busy lifestyles and up until this moment, you’ve had a routine that, at least for the most part, has worked for you. However, you’ll need to adjust that routine for exercise because, if you don’t, it’s likely you won’t ever manage to exercise consistently.

If you aren’t exercising consistently yet, I suggest starting with at 2 days per week. On the weekend when you have some time to sit down and plan your week out, pick two or three days out of your week and commit to exercising on those days, regardless of the time. After you’ve successfully implemented exercise into your routine, you can begin increasing the amount of times you workout during the week.

Just remember that if you weren’t exercising before with your current schedule, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to fit in a daily exercise routine without adjustment. Recognise that exercise is important and a priority and then adjust your schedule accordingly.

Let go of your obsession with Results and focus on the journey

Lastly, if you want to make exercise stick and become a habit you have to let go of the obsession you have with results and pay attention to what matters most — the process. Your daily habits. Focus on changing your habits and you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

These are the 3 things it takes:

-The right attitude: “I will get there eventually…”

-The right process: “Here’s what I need to do every day…”

-And enough time. You need patience. Anything that's worth something will take time.

And when you don’t see the results you want, you either need to change your attitude, the process, or wait a little longer.

The truth is you don’t have control over the outcome, so there is no point focusing on that. What you can control 100% of the way, though, is the process.

And that is the only way you’ll form habits that actually stick.

In summary:

-Set realistic, specific goals. Getting fit is not a specific goal. Running 5km under 25 min would be. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 5 kg in the next 90 days is.

-Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big requiring too big a step all at once. You have to be realistic if you want it to stick. Going to the gym 5 times a week from 0 is not realistic. Start with 2 times a week, then bump it up to 3. Gradual and consistent wins the race.

-Keep a training journal so you see your improvements. It makes it more real and tangible when you write it down.

-Rather than rewarding yourself for each workout, reward yourself for meaningful exercise milestones. Celebrate little wins, things that are worthy of a reward. Real, meaningful progress should be celebrated, not just “going to the gym”.

-Focus your thinking on new behaviours and thought patterns. You have to create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits.

-Be honest with yourself about what motivates you. The brain is smart. You can’t trick it. You need to know yourself and what motivates you if you want to have lasting success.

-Let go of the obsession with “results” & focus on the process, on the present. What's the one thing you can do today, right now, to take you closer to your goal?

-Physically adjust your routine to fit exercising in. If you weren’t exercising before with your current schedule, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to fit in a daily exercise routine without adjustment.



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