Friday, December 31, 2010

How to keep your new year's resolutions

Photo credit: Grand Canyon NPS (Flickr)

When I started training for my first marathon several years ago, I learned a very valuable strategy...start slow.  If you've ever competed in any kind of a race like this, you know that this can sometimes be hard to do.  I often enter each race with a lot of energy and excitement just waiting to be unleashed.  Then there are all of those other people around me charging out of the start.  This really makes it a challenge to hold back, but I have to remind myself that starting slow will help me finish stronger.  During my first marathon, I remember seeing people whiz past me as I kept my slowed pace, and I reminded myself, "We still have 26 miles to go."  It wasn't long before I started seeing some of those people falling back one by one.  As that happened, I become more confident in my start slow strategy.  

So, why all this race talk?  We're embarking on a new year, and along with a new year comes, for some, new year's resolutions many of which revolve around diet and exercise.  With popular magazines flaunting special dieting issues, book stores showcasing diet books, gyms offering special programs, and friends sharing dieting strategies, people certainly won't be short of options.  Am I against New Year's resolutions? Not necessarily. I just think they should be SMART.  Am I against people being eager and highly motivated to attain optimal health, fitness, and wellness?  Certainly not.  In fact, I find it exciting to see people energize their health and fitness routines at this time of year.  One of the major problems that I see with new year's resolutions is how people tend to approach them.  People often make more than one resolution, and they often try to perform a complete overhaul in each area. If it's diet-related, people often start a specific diet plan that has them doing a daily 180 on their food intake.  You're really never going to eat sugar again? Ever?  If it's exercise-related, people often dive into their fitness regimen head first going from doing nothing to working out for an hour a day.  Have ya been to a gym in January?  The problem is that when a person tries to change so much so quickly, it can become overwhelming in no time.  Why do you think that 25% of people who make new year's resolutions give up after the first week?  Even more drop off at the six to eight week mark, and more than half of all people completely abandon their resolutions after six months.

One of the driving forces behind successful, long-term behavior change is self-efficacy or a person's belief in his/her ability to accomplish a specific goal.  Do I believe that you can make the changes that you want to make?  I absolutely do but maybe not all at once.  Flooding yourself with numerous changes at the same time may not necessarily bode well for your self-efficacy.  So, what alternative do I suggest?  How about the start slow strategy?  What if you focused on building momentum around only a few SMART resolutions in one specific area (eg, only diet or only exercise)?  For example, if you haven't been exercising at all, maybe you start by aiming for a 15 minute walk three days a week and strength training one day a week.  Or perhaps you zero in on one SMART resolution in only a few areas? Maybe you set a goal to increase your vegetable intake to 3 cups a day and take a walk during your lunch breaks at work.  By honing in on a few very specific goals like these, you will likely build up your confidence, which will help you maintain your motivation for the long haul.  And guess what?  I bet you will feel better, too.          

Will you lose 10 pounds in 10 days? Likely not, but is that really what you want? Really?  What do you {really} hope to accomplish, experience, or feel by eating right, exercising more, or losing weight?  Remember that because that will keep you going.  And remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint!  Start slow, stay strong!

Happy and Healthy New Year to you!


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