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New Year Fitness Resolutions – Why Do Many Fitness Resolutions Fall Short?

By: NCSF  on:  Dec 12 2013
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In early-mid December fitness enthusiasts start to succumb to the holiday season and those fully committed to training year-round find they have a little extra room in most fitness facilities. Many less-adherent people find themselves busy with the Holidays and unable to stick to their normal exercise regimens with the thoughts of “I’ll really get serious after the holidays”. Then January comes along…. and gyms once again quickly fill up with masses of people having followed through with the first step of their New Year’s resolution. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology top resolutions include weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction. Unfortunately for the masses these exciting resolutions seem to lose their steam as major drop off occurs at 5 weeks, 12 weeks, and the rest by 6 months. This pattern seems to replicate itself year, after year, after year… So why do people often start with great intentions, but then fall short when it comes down to sticking with their fitness goals? According to experts, it comes down to a few psychological and logistical challenges inherent to human nature – challenges that can be effectively overcome if properly understood and managed.

Here are a few things to consider while trying to help keep new clients in the gym after the initial excitement of New Year’s resolutions begins to fizzle:

There Needs to Be a Tangible Game Plan

  • Many people make vague resolutions like “I plan to get in better shape”. However, having a specific tangible goal appears to expedite success far more effectively. Essentially, vague aspirations don’t work for the average person because they fail to embrace new behaviors – they are just abstract thoughts. The brain cannot focus on abstract goals not tied to specific behaviors; and therefore the efforts necessary to reach the goal cannot become “instinctual”, which is critical for long-term goal attainment.
  • This tangible plan should be made ahead of time to ensure that all variables are properly accounted for (e.g., time management for tackling the new goal). Thinking ahead of time also allows the individual to fully reflect upon what they want to achieve.
  • The key is to focus on one specific goal or habit at a time, in a step-by-step format.
  • Examples:
    • Resolution - “I will eat healthier food” vs. Habit – “I will begin eating fruit each time I have a craving for my favorite pastry”
    • Resolution – “I will get in better shape” vs. Habit – “I will lift weights three times per week and perform cardiovascular training two time each week”

Setting Unrealistic Goals Creates Major Psychological Hurdles

  • Some psychologists have described New Year’s resolutions as a form of “cultural procrastination” where the person is trying to reinvent themselves. This often leads to the development of excessively lofty and unrealistic goals and expectations. This of course, has a part to play in the high failure rates among those that make resolutions.
  • Psychologists have also identified what they call the "false hope syndrome," which essentially denotes a resolution developed by a person was significantly unrealistic and out of alignment with their internal view of themselves. Resolutions must embrace the client’s personality and capabilities.
  • Interestingly, research has shown differences between genders as it relates to resolution success:
    • Men seem to more effectively achieve their fitness goals when they engage in specific, tangible goal-setting that that is measureable and achievable.
    • Women seem to more effectively achieve their fitness goals when they share them with the others (think social media sites and group fitness scenarios) and have accountability from friends.

Goals must be Clear, Quantifiable, and Attainable

  • Long term goals must be used in a process of reverse engineering to identify attainability.
  • Example 20 pounds of weight loss – 70,000 calories expended, physical fitness capacity of 250 kcal per workout 4x per week. Without significant dietary change this goal will take up to 70 months to attain assuming the client works out 4x a week for the intended caloric expenditure.
  • Focus on the daily objectives ONLY. The daily objectives should add up to a weekly outcome that is quantifiable. If accomplished every day – the weekly goal is attained.

One must Attain the Tools Needed for Success

  • When taking on any goal the first step should be obtaining the necessary tools for success. As it relates to fitness goals, this is where the personal trainer comes in as a critical piece of the puzzle. Most people taking on their New Year’s fitness resolutions need the guidance, motivation and expertise of a qualified personal trainer to reach their long-term goals.
  • A good deal of research shows that it is very important to have some sort of accountability, such as someone close to the individual whom they have to regularly report to who will quantify progress and provide feedback.

Establishing a Support System and Positive Motivators

  • People function best when they have social accountability and feel that their actions are positive and attainable
  • Having a letter of commitment or a person for which one is accountable to can be useful for promoting true behavioral changes.
  • Identifying enablers and disablers is important when attempting to avoid obstacles to positive behavior traits.

The Focus must be on Behavioral Change

  • As mentioned earlier, making a resolution work requires changing one’s behaviors; and in order to do that the brain must perceive the tasks associated with the goal as second-nature. Scientists who study brain function as well as psychotherapists have found that any habitual behavior, such as regular exercise, is created by embracing thinking patterns that create associated neural pathways and memories. Essentially, the new resolution has to be a part of one’s everyday thinking processes.
  • Focus on overall behavioral change. Many clients will only have 3-5 hours per week to work with a personal trainer – this potentially leaves about 160 hours for the client to potentially “mess everything up that was gained in the gym” if other synergistic daily behaviors, such as healthy food intake and stress management, are not part of the client’s regular thoughts. A behavior modification plan must be holistic in nature.

Much like any plan for goal attainment the activities must be comprehensive in nature. Addressing only a single aspect will dramatically reduce the likelihood of success. When all of the pieces of the puzzle come together the outcome is complete and predictable. Identifying the negatives that create obstacles and barriers is just as important as identifying the positive actions. A balanced effort to reduce negatives and add positives should be a big part of the goal.

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