Many New Year’s health and fitness resolutions fail for many reasons such as setting unrealistic goals or going too hard too early, resulting in injury and giving up. The other big one is lack of preparation.
Preparation is about understanding yourself and your limits to create achievable, enjoyable goals and developing the right mindset to make them happen.
If you want to make a change for the better in 2016, consider the following tips:
- Everyone’s exercise tolerance is different: So many New Year’s resolutions don’t last because people aim too high, setting goals way beyond their exercise tolerance. Understanding your fitness levels and exercise tolerance is key.
A good rule of thumb is to only increase your exercise levels by 20% at a time, across six week intervals. It may sound modest, but increasing by this level allows your body to adjust slowly and lowers your injury risk. Once your body has adjusted to that increase over a period of six weeks, you may then increase the exercise by another 20%.
The key is knowing your baseline: for example, how long can you walk for, and how often? How far can you run, and how often? How many laps can you swim? Our bodies are designed to move, and everybody can do something.
Once you have your baseline you can make improvements 20% at a time, and you will be amazed at the difference over a 12 month period.
- Do something that you like: You’ll dramatically increase your chance of success by going with something you like. Too many people try to force themselves into activities they don’t enjoy, and usually end up quitting in frustration. Even if you’re not in love with the idea of exercise, you will surely have a preference – for example given a choice between walking, the gym, cycling, running and swimming there is bound to be one activity you prefer, and that is the one you are most likely to stick with.
- Drop the comparisons: It’s so tempting to compare yourself to your peers, your family or even celebrities but comparison is ultimately destructive and de-motivating. People can quickly lose confidence because somebody is always going to be fitter/stronger/better than you.
Making a positive change needs to be about you. So concentrate on yourself. Understand your base fitness, and aim for steady improvement. Do what you’re doing as well as you can. The change will come and you’ll feel better for it, but only if you compare you with you.
- Be consistent: Health and wellbeing needs consistent behaviour for improvement. Look at your schedule, find the time and then commit to the time to exercise. It’s ok to have some flexibility in your schedule – for example, if you plan to start swimming two days a week you may vary the days, but it’s crucial to stick with that two days every week.
- Develop your mindset: The single most important element for achieving consistency, and making your New Year’s resolution a reality, is developing a strong mindset.
One way elite athletes develop mindset is through affirmations: simple, short, positive phrases, which they say to themselves either early in the morning or late at night – or both (research shows that the brain is more receptive to affirmations at these times of day).
Affirmations may be something like “today I am fitter than I was last week/last month” or “each and every day I am getting better”. Affirmations help combat the inevitable doubt and negative emotion that people often experience. They may also be necessary if you are not surrounded by supportive people – many people find that family and friends mock or are hostile to a new fitness regime. This can hold people back.
With a strong mindset, in which you understand your exercise tolerance and have committed to increasing that tolerance, without comparison to others, and by being consistent, you will find it easier to overcome challenges and make your goals a reality.