How to Adhere to a New Years’ Fitness Program: Don’t be a Statistic!

It’s definitely starting to feel like January, with all the Christmas excitement and holiday stress behind us. The current year is in the rear-view mirror and a new year is in clear sight. Excited for a fresh start with lofty New Year goals? Ready to finally kick off a great year of fitness? Think again! Here is some tough love and hard facts. The majority of people who attempt to implement a new exercise routine in January quit shortly thereafter. The most common trend is a fast start followed by a rapid drop off, or total crash, only within a few months. Long-term adherence is unlikely. Large gyms even count on this fact to manage limited space and equipment. The point of this article is not to dissuade a noble exercise effort, quite the contrary, but to offer education as to the pitfalls that lie ahead because encountering multiple roadblocks will almost certainly ensure failure. Fortunately, there are common habitual patterns of behavior and action that sabotage admiral aspirations again-and-again. Thwarting these patterns starts with heightening awareness as becoming more informed can allow for better planning and support systems to achieve coveted fitness goals. 

Pitfall 1 – Don’t make it a solo mission 

Ideally, do not go after fitness goals alone. Sustained accountability from individual willpower will be difficult to maintain long-term. Instead, involve a spouse, family member, co-worker, friend, or join a small personal training group. The benefits of social accountability and motivation are clear. People will frequently do more for others than themselves and there is tremendous power in social commitment and consistency. It will be difficult to miss training sessions or quit exercise programs when the result will be social disappointment or isolation from our peer group. Adherence, enjoyment, and support will all improve when making the commitment with a training partner or small group. Immediately, write down three to five names of people who could make a suitable training partner and send them an email to discuss potential plans over coffee. Do this before moving on to the next pitfall. 

Pitfall 2 – Not seeking advice from a mentor 

The cliché “failure to plan is planning to fail” is well known because of its validity. Every time the fitness facility doors are entered with NO plan in terms of what will be accomplished within the exercise session the faster frustration levels will rise. Additionally, the act of cutting a training plan out of a popular fitness magazine does not satisfy the criteria of “wise guidance”. A successful program should have a level of individualization based on our injury history, current training level, and previous experience. Along with customization, increasing the clarity of our aims is crucial. Setting goals to lose weight or feel fit are not enough. If, after three weeks of hard work, the only goal was to “start exercising” or “lose weight”, and no progress has been achieved, we are VERY likely to quit and use our time in a more productive manner. Moving forward with ineffective, or nonexistent, planning will most likely lead to a lot of work in the wrong direction. Worse, acknowledgement of a lack of progress is quickly followed by negative emotion such as frustration, disappointment, and anger.  These misguided fitness efforts can lead to injury, burnout, plateauing, and a defeated mindset. 

In contrast to the above example, one of the most addictive dopaminergic pleasures is observing real progress toward a valued goal. This upcoming year make a choice to learn a better way to obtain and monitor results. First, create clarity with short, medium, and long-term goals in a variety of areas (consistency, strength, endurance, personal bests, etc…). A good decision is to track improvement in a multitude of areas, and across different periods of time. Second, use a proven map that gets results. Research and find a fitness professional, in-person or on-line, to help create an effective plan to map out your specific individual journey. To illustrate this point, visualize the process of learning to play an instrument, such as the guitar. Certainly, attempts can be made to improve proficiency with individual trial-and-error practice. But once fingers are sore and bleeding, and the melodies all sound the same, there is a relatively high percentage the guitar will soon be gathering dust. But, if music lessons are acquired from a seasoned professional then their teaching mastery can provide guidance, education, and structure to practice sessions to maximize progression. The auditory shock and pleasure felt when something truly memorable escapes the guitar strings may lead to an instant addiction. A similar process unfolds in becoming addicted to exercise and this addiction reinforces adherence. Take action now to discover a mentor by finding three referrals to a top fitness professional. 

Pitfall 3 – Lack of support from friends and family 

Changes in exercise habits are really lifestyle changes. Deep personal changes in our values and priorities. How we spend time, energy, and focus will all be altered. These changes will affect the world that surrounds us, especially our family. If our spouse, family, and friends are not aligned, supporting these new priorities and behaviors, the resistance felt will make it unlikely to sustain a new routine. A thought-provoking old fable tells the story of how a bucket of crabs does not need a lid. Every time one of the crabs attempts to climb out of the bucket the rest of the crabs pull them back down into the group. The group we surround ourselves with plays a large part in what we think, what we believe, and how we act. Starting out with high motivation in an after-work exercise routine may be stalled when family role commitments change to picking up the kids after evening hockey and soccer practice. The most admirable change in dietary habits can be thwarted if our spouse’s kitchen playbook is made up of high calorie dinners. If our peer group continually ostracises the mere thought of choosing a chicken wrap and lemon water on Wednesday wing night, it will be difficult to maintain. The people surrounding us play a major role in creating the right environment to pursue, capture, and maintain our goals. Heightened awareness of this fact is crucial. It may be uncomfortable, but essential, to have several tough conversations and make a few difficult decisions to create the supportive environment necessary to generate healthy habits. Write down three people where an honest, difficult conversation would help to encourage new exercise habits. 

Pitfall 4 – Habitual stress management 

We all have pre-programmed patterns of how we manage the stress experienced with a harsh boss, a fight with our spouse, mis-behaving children, or financial pressure. If our pattern is to eat, drink, or smoke our negative emotions away we are sabotaging our fitness efforts. These unhealthy patterns must be recognized and replaced with alternative healthy patterns. Everyone must find individualized empowering patterns as a cookie cutter approach will not work for all. Detailing specific examples could be endless but a few healthy patterns could include going for a run when feeling upset, learning to communicate our frustrations when emotions are boiling over, altering nutrition triggers from beer to Perrier and replacing pastry snacks with veggies and hummus, or simply developing our talents through hobbies like writing a blog detailing our adversity. Each individual is different. The key point is to enhance our awareness of how we deal with stress and to proactively find new habits that do not sabotage our New Year goals. Take a moment to brainstorm and write down 3 negative habits of stress management. Now, find 3 role models who manage similar stress in an admirable manner. What are their patterns? Learn how they approach and remove stress in their lives. 

Achieving our New Year fitness goals is not an impossible task. It is a worthwhile decision to create new life-changing habits that positively impact ourselves and our loved ones. In our attempts to meet these accomplishments we must arm ourselves with honesty, education, and awareness. The key first step on this path is to recognize the predictable roadblocks that consistently sabotage our success and accept the challenge to overcome them. Effective proactive actions and tough honest conversations can help mold our environment to support us on this journey.