Only 8% of people who make a new year’s resolution actually hit that goal. Pretty shocking, huh? I actually got a front row seat to witness the cycle every year, too, which led me to start thinking about why so few people can keep their goals, and what makes those people successful.
5 days a week I went to the gym. Every lunch break I had I would take at least half of it to nip down to get in a session lifting weights or doing some natural movement practice. Every January the place was absolutely packed with people I had never seen before. Every single day. Early February some would still be going strong, but it would have tapered off and by the end of February the gym was back to me and a few of the regulars I knew.
This gym was actually in our office building, so it was free and as equally accessible to everyone on their March lunch break as it was their January lunch break. So why were I and a handful of my co-workers able to come back day after day year round while the new year’s crowd weren’t?
I think there are a few reasons, I’ll cover them in this series. The first reason and the biggest factor I’ve found is burnout.
Taking the burnout route:
The biggest difference between me and the new year’s crowd was how we got to the gym. I’m not talking about elevator versus stairs, I’m talking about circumstances that led us to be there. You’re typical new year’s resolution maker would resolve to “go to the gym” or maybe even something specific as “go to the gym 3 days a week”. They’re feeling great, their enthusiasm is high and so they get in there and they spend 45 minutes to an hour sweating. They get an awesome endorphin rush and feel great about themselves. So they do it the next two weeks. But then something happens. They feel tired one day or they don’t have time for a full length workout that day so they don’t go. It’s perfectly reasonable. They are doing a strenuous workout that their body isn’t used to and they are trying to make room in their schedule for something that didn’t used to be there. It’s a double whammy! Behavior change is difficult and relying on willpower to make a huge change, especially one that demands significant time and energy, is going to lead to burnout.
So they slowly stop going and settle back into their previous routine.
How I got there:
I started working out in college when I had plenty of time and a best friend to go with. I found a fantastic group that I met up with first once a week and then slowly up to 3 times per week with sessions with my best friend in between. It slowly became part of my identity. And when I left college and left town, I found a job that had a teeny tiny workout area. Since everything else had changed in my life, I used fitness to ground me and start re-establishing myself. I started very small. Some days I would go in, do a few pull up progressions, and leave. It didn’t matter, that tiny space was my “zen” time. As long as I put on my sneakers and moved it didn’t matter what I did or how long I did it.
That routine built up slowly.
Since I didn’t put any pressure on myself to build up a sweat or to push my body hard my daily visits were exactly as intense as I felt like and I looked forward to them. I most often found that on days I didn’t want to visit the gym, I could either go for a walk or “bargain” with myself to just go and do something extremely minimal. Most of the time I’d actually start enjoying it and keep going. Other times I’d still feel blah and I’d realize I needed a break and would honor that.
All this built up to me taking 20-30 minutes every week day in the gym. It was a way to unwind, get a break in the middle of the day, and it was something I looked forward to rather than something I forced into my day.
Very simply, the difference was that I slowly built my 5x weekly gym visit slowly over time in a way that was comfortable rather than committing to it all at once. This is a key point to keeping a resolution. A resolution that is at odds with your current behavior has a 92% chance of failing. In order to become that 8% let’s reevaluate what we are committing to. Instead of dripping with sweat 3 days a week, start with committing to get to the gym 1 to 2 days a week. No pressure once you get there, you can stand around in your gym clothes or do a workout. Get into the habit, get some good, easy success, and then build from there.
This works outside the gym as well.
I’m very wary of “sugar free September” or Whole30 style commitments. Most people I know who have gone on a crash diet end up burned out by the end of it because it is a hard change. Suddenly they have to cook every meal and they have to use new ingredients. They spend the entire month trying to figure out what to cook and how. Then, even though they felt awesome, they lapse back into their old habits. The most successful diet changes I’ve found come from slow, incremental changes. If you’re going to switch to a Paleo diet, maybe this month you use gluten free bread. Next month you make cassava flour bread once a week. Small steps don’t seem overwhelming and can be built upon. Most crash diets or crash gym regiments crash and burn. Planning for the long haul gets you to your goal!