The months of December and January are that time of year where many of us intend to emerge from the Christmas and New Year holidays full of good intentions and fresh ideas for how to improve ourselves in the next twelve months.
Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions are valiantly made, but seldom kept. Such is our fondness for this annual ritual of self-improvement that gyms are suddenly full of eager new faces reflecting off the mirrored walls, and classes are oversubscribed. Personal trainers do quite well out of this initial enthusiasm also, but a major challenge for us is how to use our influence and expertise to ensure that our clients don’t disappear after the first few weeks.
There are lots of things that can scupper your good intentions, irrespective of how motivated you are at the outset. There are also a few strategies that you can use to help you reach your goals.
1. Set realistic goals.
Think about what you want to achieve, and make that your endgame. It might be lose two stone, run a half-marathon, or give up alcohol or smoking. Then consider whether you have tried to give up before, and if so, what stopped you making it happen. Write those things down, and then consider a strategy for ensuring that doesn’t happen again.
You might find at this point your goals or resolutions change: for example, if you resolved to give up smoking but failed in the past because of stress, look at what causes you to feel stressed, and address those factors first. Stress can be very damaging for health, and therefore is arguably as important to address as smoking. If stress leads to smoking, and you still have those stressful factors influencing your life, then they are what you should base your resolutions on.
Put a timeframe on that goal, but make it realistic. Don’t rush. Long term success should preside over getting it done quickly.
2. Make small, sustainable lifestyle changes.
Introducing radical new changes to your diet or lifestyle will usually result in long-term failure. Such sweeping changes might work for a short while, but are very hard to maintain in the long run. This is the reason why diets usually fail, and there’s a whole industry worth billions of pounds that depends on that sad fact.
Instead try introducing small alterations, and then a few more, until whatever you’re trying to bring into your life (or get out of it) will become the norm. The changes will be slow enough for you to have adjusted, and it will have become part of your life, just something that you now do (or don’t do). This is particularly importance advice with regards to diet and exercise.
3. Enlist the support of family – or be prepared to go it alone.
Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, it can be helpful or sometimes even necessary to enlist the support of your partner, friends or family. Let them know what you’re doing and why, and if they can help, let them know how. You won’t always get the support you need, (this might surprise you), but either way you need to have taken the decision you have for your own reasons.
Other people might get on board when they see that you’re serious but it’s you that has the make it happen.
4. Try and avoid allying your goals or resolutions with another person.
It’s easy to find a partner or friend to diet with or try and give up smoking together, but this is also a risky strategy, as there’s a strong chance that one of you will be that little bit less emotionally invested than the other. If that person fails, it’s far more likely that you will too. Whilst it’s good to have an ally, it does lessen your chances of success, but if you do want to tie your resolutions to someone else, choose carefully!
5. Find something you really care about as motivation.
I helped a client train for and complete the London Marathon 2 years ago. She had never run before, did no exercise, (in fact had never exercised in any significant way in her lifetime) and was not in ideal physical condition when we started. Four months later, she was able to prove all the doubters and naysayers wrong when she crossed the finish line and proudly limped home with a medal.
The primary reason that she was able to do this was this: she had a very strong motivating factor, which drove her forwards every day until she had finished the marathon. This factor was her father, who was and still is profoundly ill with MS. She trained through snow, sun, hail, wind, rain and often in the dark three times a week for over 16 weeks and never missed a session.
She was also very open-minded about making the necessary alterations to her diet to help her maintain her energy levels, and making significant sacrifices to her social life. In addition, she had a full-time job in the media and two young children at home.
If you want to make changes then it really helps to have something to aim for, and something to fall against when it gets tough, because no matter who you are, it will sometimes be tough. This might be health-related or not, but find something that matters to you and start believing in it.
I run a personal training and wellbeing service, and in my experience, helping someone successfully achieve good health comes from developing a relationship with the client that extends into the many hours of the week that I’m not with them, not the hour they’re paying for. We help people define clear goals, and help them identify past failures, so that they feel sufficiently empowered to make more of the right choices using the strategies I’ve outlined here.