January: cold, dark, desolate, and the furthest away from summer and happiness you could possibly get. And yet during this time of darkness and despair, we choose to set ourselves incredibly ambitious and often achievable fitness goals – aka New Year’s resolutions. For some strange reason, tradition dictates that we choose these goals for ourselves during one of the most depressing times of the year. Setting a goal for yourself when life is boring, bleak, and dull is completely counter-intuitive and is setting yourself up for failure. All this said, I myself do have a New Year’s resolution to get in better shape. Even though it’s really fricken hard to be motivated to do anything after Christmas and after you use up all your vacation days, knowing that nothing but the long dark winter is all that is ahead of you, the majority of us still set these goals.
While counter-intuitive when you look at the circumstances, it also makes perfect sense why we feel we need to crack down and tighten up our belts (quite literally often times) for the New Year. Christmas is the best time of the year, but despite what most God-loving Christians think, it is pure evil. It is evil, not in the religious sense, but because it promotes indulgence, gluttony and stuffing your face with as much turkey as possible often at more than one family dinner. It is evil for our willpower. Chocolates, candy, turkey, gravy, stuffing, pie, Christmas cake, peanut brittle, egg nog, lots and lots of wine, craft Christmas brews – just the things on the top of my head I can think of consuming copious amounts of throughout the holidays. Low and behold, stepping on the scale on January 1st, the majority of us weigh at least a couple pounds more than we did just a few short blissful weeks prior. Looking back it is so easy to kick yourself for not having any self-control, and so easy to regret making all those delicious decisions, and looking back in hindsight, is when we decided to finally get in shape: “This will be the year; I will lose all my extra weight, and be the fittest I’ve ever been in my life.”
Sadly, after only a few short months, we revert back to our old selves. Our gym memberships are left idle, and the proteins and supplements sit collecting dust in the corner of our cupboard. And if you look at what drove you to get in shape in the first place, it’s not surprising that many of us are unable to keep ourselves motivated long enough to actually create and sort of difference in our lives. Again, we always make our decisions in hindsight, after eating all the chocolate and turkey and gravy and wine. But what if we were able to make those decisions before-hand? Then we wouldn’t need to be on a strict diet to shed those extra pounds, because we would have never eaten them in the first place. The point is, everything in hindsight is obvious, but looking forward and looking at the long term picture, is more difficult. Many of us make our New Year’s resolutions in hindsight, without actually evaluating our lifestyle, and without looking ahead at making long term changes. Everyone is always just trying to get back to where they were before those Christmas pounds, but once we start losing the weight, we start letting it all slide.
Losing weight is hard. It’s not an easy task. To just get up one day and start eating healthy and going to the gym or working out 4 or 5 times a week is not an easily achievable goal. We often set ourselves rigorous, structured, and frequent workout plans; strict diets with macro and calorie counting planned down to the snack. So let’s step back for a second and evaluate the situation: you are in mediocre shape, not bad but by no means the best shape of your life; Christmas rolls around, and you indulge in all things Christmas; Christmas ends, and you realize that you have gained some weight, and decide to radically change everything you do to now get yourself in phenomenal shape. Does this sound like a recipe for success? Again, you are making this decision to get in shape after you stuffed your face, and you are trying to make radical changes to get yourself into the proper shape. The biggest mistake people make after deciding to get in shape, is changing everything all at once: diet, exercise, lifestyle, life.
Getting in shape does not mean that you aren’t allowed to eat ice cream, or you aren’t allowed to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, or have a glass (or three) of wine with dinner. It means that you need to limit the amount you do these things, and diversify your lifestyle with some healthier options. Setting unrealistic goals for yourself is the biggest deterrent for people’s continued motivation and strength of willpower. Deciding all of a sudden that you are going to start meal prepping and macro (fat, carb, protein) counting, is not an easy thing to do; it requires hours and hours of food prep a week to ensure that you are consuming the right amounts, at the right time. How many people do you know, who are overweight, and have hours and hours of free time in their weeks? Most of us have jobs, kids, friends, family, pets – a huge number of things that already take up the majority of our time. That is why a lot of us are overweight in the first place, because we don’t have the time to exercise, or do the meal prep. Eating out is way easier than making a home cooked meal. You walk into McDonald’s with a hungry family, and walk out ten minutes later, with every single family member full and content. This is opposed to: looking up a recipe, creating a shopping list, going shopping for the ingredients, coming home and making dinner for everyone, and then cleaning up after everyone. Which sounds easier, and which sounds less time consuming?
I am not saying everyone should start eating out, but this is just an example of two radically different options for dinner. Obviously eating out is easier and much less time consuming, so why do we attempt to change our lives in a way that will require much more time and effort, when we don’t have the time or effort to spare to begin with. What I am saying is set yourself small, realistic goals. If you eat out 5 nights a week, cut it to two. Or maybe you never eat out anyways but you may not necessarily cook healthy meals at home. Try to start small: cut out potatoes, switch from white rice to brown rice, don’t eat as much bread, have a vegetable with every dinner, drink a glass of water before or with dinner instead of wine – all of these things are small steps that require no extra time, and are easily achievable. And the key with these small changes is to incorporate them into your lifestyle.
Making small lifestyle changes is how you go about changing yourself. Very few of us have the will power and determination to make crazy drastic changes in our lives. But it’s the people who can change their lifestyle, bit by bit, meal by meal, workout by workout, that are able to achieve long term success. One of my friends was really overweight, so much so that he couldn’t even go to the gym. He lost 50 lbs in 4 months doing two simple things: walking, and drinking water. He cut out pop from his diet and switched to water, and he started going for a walk every night. At first it was only for 10 minutes, then 20, and then before you know it he would be out for an hour and not even out of breath when he got home. He didn’t stop eating ice cream, or gravy and turkey, or counting his macros, or going on the Atkin’s diet. He just made two, small, manageable lifestyle changes that set him down the road to success.
- Measurable – a goal that can be measured makes it much easier to monitor progress and stick to it
- Continuous – structured so that each goal can be built upon after completion
- Compounding – long term goals should be comprised of several smaller, achievable short term goals
- Realistic – the resolutions must be achievable or else you are setting yourself up for failure
Besides the diet, a lot of people get themselves a gym membership, and sometimes a personal trainer, and start going HAM at the gym. Similar to eating super healthy, having a strict workout regime is not easy. The gym can be daunting if you know that you are going to go get your butt kicked by a personal trainer and be so tired that all you can do is lay on the couch when you get home. That doesn’t sound fun to me. You know what sounds like a fun way to start working out – going for a walk with a friend. You get time to socialize, and you are also working out. Yes walking counts as a workout too. Or maybe you get a gym membership with your friend, and that becomes your social time. As I mention in a related post, having a gym partner is one of the best motivators to keep you working out. Or maybe you decide you want to start jogging. If you take 20 minutes out of your day to go for a run, you can be burning an extra 300-400 calories. That’s like 3 (small) glasses of wine! But again for some reason, people think that they need to start a crazy workout regime if they want to stick to their New Year’s resolutions and get in shape.
The goal here is not to get everyone to start working out, or eating super healthy; the goal is to highlight the mistakes people make in when they set themselves goals in the form of New Year’s resolutions. People try to change their lives, instead of their lifestyle. They set themselves incredibly ambitious goals and try to change everything all at once, and that is ultimately why the majority of people can’t keep to their resolutions. If you set yourself small, obtainable goals, and build them up over time, the chances of success go through the roof. Everyone likes succeeding; it feels good. What if every month, you set a small goal, and you met it. How awesome would that feel? You would want to set a goal for next month again to get that great feeling of accomplishment and gratitude. Now what if you had a goal to lose 30 pounds in 6 months? How measurable and achievable does that sound? Keep your goals small, obtainable and measurable. Set yourself up for success. Remember, the key to achieving your New Year’s resolution is to gradually make small changes until you reach your goal, not to make huge changes all at once and hope you can achieve them. Change your lifestyle, not your life.