Choosing a Lasting New Year’s Resolution

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“This year, I’m going to lose 50 pounds…”

“This year, I’m going to the gym every day after work…”

“This year, I will get in the best shape of my life…”

Do these sound like statements you’ve made on January 1st, only to realize you didn’t lose even 5 pounds, you only went to the gym on January 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and, by the end of the year, you were in worse shape than when the year started? If so, you are among the thousands of Americans who make a fitness-based New Year’s resolution, but fail to keep it.

Statistics on adhering to a New Year’s resolution are bleak. Most data suggests that only 10-20% of resolutions are maintained past the end of February, let alone throughout the entire year. Fitness resolutions are certainly no exception to this failure trend, yet fitness-based resolutions are among the most popular from year-to-year, ranking even with (or ahead of) quitting smoking in most polls.

If you’re one of the thousands of people considering a fitness-based New Year’s resolution this January 1st, the question is simple: how do you defy the trend? How do you fall in the 20% of people who are successful, and not the 80% of people who aren’t? Well, there are some simple steps you can follow to ensure your resolution not only makes it to January 2nd, but endures throughout the rest of the year as well.

Step 1-Set a Realistic Resolution. Most people set themselves up for failure before they even begin the New Year by choosing a resolution that is too ambitious, or just flat-out unrealistic. Losing 30 pounds by the end of January will not happen. Running a marathon in April, if you haven’t run a mile since high school, is probably unlikely. Never eating fast food again likely won’t happen. Making a realistic resolution is a crucial initial step toward success. Realistic goals might be losing two pounds per week, being able to run a mile without stopping, or limiting yourself to one fast food meal per week. Whatever your resolution might be, ideally it needs to be something that allows you to measure success in small weekly or bi-weekly increments, as this will help keep you motivated.

Step 2- Consider a Process-Oriented Resolution. In Step 1, I mentioned typical resolutions (losing weight, running a marathon, etc.). I would consider these outcome-oriented resolutions, as they are the end result of you working hard and achieving a tangible goal (i.e., weight loss). Now, don’t get me wrong — having a tangible goal is important, but sometimes we get so caught up in focusing on the outcome of the endeavor that we don’t allocate the necessary energy to the process, and as a result, we fail. So this year, why not try a different approach? Instead of making your resolution to lose 8 pounds by February 1st, why don’t you resolve not to have any snacks after 7 p.m. and to walk 2 miles per day? I bet if you do that, you’ll easily be down 8 pounds by month’s end. With this type of resolution, you focus on the process, and as a result, the outcome takes care of itself. This is obviously just a simple example, but the logic can be applied to nearly any resolution. Keep in mind that if you focus on the process, the outcome is inevitable.

Step 3- Think Short-Term. Long-term, big picture goals are great; however, goals that are set too far in the future are hard to visualize, making it difficult to stay motivated. Rather than setting a resolution that you’ll try to keep until next January 1st, try to pick one that will get you through until the of THIS January. In doing so, you’ll be shooting for something that is much more acutely within your reach. Having that big picture vision is still great, but you need incremental steps along the way that you can shoot for to keep motivated. For example, maybe you want to lose 40 pounds. Rather than making that your resolution, why not make your resolution to lose 8 pounds per month for the first five months of 2011? By applying this approach, you’ll incrementally move toward your goal without taking any giant steps. By taking one small step at a time, you’ll continue to stay motivated.

Step 4- Involve a friend in your resolution. Research suggests that social support is one of the most critical components to behavioral change. It doesn’t matter if you’re in AA or just looking to lose some weight, social support can be a critical aspect of success. With this in mind, try to find a friend or family member who might set a similar resolution to yours, and embark on this journey together. You’ll find very quickly that there will be days your partner holds you accountable when you otherwise wouldn’t have done what you needed to do to make your resolution a reality. You will inevitably do the same for them, and that’s when the role of social support will become most evident. When selecting your resolution “teammate,” try to find someone who not only has a similar goal, but who also has a similar lifestyle and faces similar challenges. Plan to talk to each other at least once a week about how the process is going and what challenges you’re facing. By doing so, you’ll identify problems and potential pitfalls and correct them before they become major issues.

Step 5- Realize that New Year’s is NOT the only time to make a change. Ah, the New Year abounds with so much newness that it’s a very logical time to set a new goal, or to go in a new direction. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best time for you. Think about it — you’re just coming off the holidays, and you’re probably getting back to work or getting the kids back to school. You might be playing catch-up from all the distractions of the holiday season, and because of this, January 1st might not be the best day to start on your new path. Your resolution can begin January 15th, 25th, or whenever you feel you’re ready. If the first of the year isn’t realistic, don’t start it then — wait until the pieces of your life are back in place enough to start. Regardless of when you implement your resolution, the four steps above still apply. Any time is a good time to make a change, and as logical as the first of the year might seem to some, don’t think you missed your opportunity if it doesn’t work for you. Every day is a new day, and that is a good enough reason to make a change.

Well, there you have it — if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution, you’re not alone, and now you have some simple steps you can follow to ensure your resolution lasts far beyond January 2nd. Here’s to a fitter, healthier you in 2011!

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