By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
Does the excess of winter holidays inspire you to make New Year’s resolutions? As you’re ladling that third glass of eggnog and eyeing the peppermint bark, do you suddenly become extra ambitious? You might think: Okay, when January 2 hits, I’m going to be good. Really. I’m going to work out before I head to the office every morning. I’m going to eat well. I’m going to get to bed before 10 PM every night. I’m setting some major goals for the new year, and I’m going to rock them all.
Many of us like to set resolutions for the new year, usually focusing on improved nutrition, fitness, and general wellness. By early February, however, it’s easy to lose sight of your admirable goals. Life gets hectic, and it’s difficult to squeeze a workout in when you’re pulled in several directions at all times. And if the weather is dreary and cold where you live, you may not feel terribly motivated to head out for a brisk walk or run. It’s easy to come home from work, tuck into a frozen pizza in front of Netflix, and call it a night. Let’s face it: after the big Times Square ball drops, most of us drop the ball, too, so to speak.
If you have a habit of letting your resolutions go before Valentine’s Day, you’re not alone. Here, I’ll share some ideas I find helpful for staying focused on your dietary and fitness goals. I want to emphasize the idea of process over outcome. We’ll reframe your goals so that you spend more energy on your daily habits and behaviors than your desired results.
What were your New Year’s resolutions? Take a minute to think about the changes you decided you wanted to make. Did you want to eat a more balanced diet and reduce your sugar and carb consumption? Were you planning to attend a twice-weekly fitness class, like barre or spin, or spend your lunch hour walking on sunny days?
Now, think about why you prioritized those particular lifestyle changes. Were you hoping to lose a certain number of pounds? Were you determined to buy a new suit or dress in a smaller size for a friend’s wedding? Did you think about your annual physical and decide you’d better whip yourself into shape and lower your cholesterol level? Those are admirable goals—but I’m going to suggest that you think about the end results of your efforts a little less.
Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely want you to focus on your goals for self-care and wellness. They’re incredibly important! I’d just like you to reframe them so that you concentrate on positive daily behaviors, rather than end results. For example, instead of constantly reminding yourself that you want to lose 10 or 15 pounds, you might focus more on mindful eating. After all, most of us rush through some of our meals, whether we’re eating breakfast on the go or working through lunch. It’s easy to gain weight (and difficult to lose it) when you’re in the habit of grabbing a fast-food breakfast on your daily commute.
Instead of berating yourself for hitting a weight-loss plateau, focus on good everyday habits. One goal for the new year might be to eat more healthy meals at home. So, leave some time each morning to sit and enjoy a homemade breakfast (it can be quick and simple). Or, if you’re pressed for time in the morning, pack a balanced and healthy meal each night before you go to bed.
Even if you have to eat on the train or bus or at your desk, incorporate some simple mindful eating exercises into each meal. Don’t wait until you are starving, scarf everything you’ve packed, and then head to the vending machine. Instead, chew slowly and enjoy the healthy choices you’ve made. You’ll very likely find that it’s much easier to stick to a healthy eating plan by staying more mindful of your food intake. And, even if you don’t lose weight immediately, you’ll feel good about the excellent choices you’ve made each day.
While we’re on the subject, let’s also discuss the effect of our behavior on our physical fitness levels. Have you set any long-term fitness goals? When it comes to getting into shape, take note that there are factors beyond our control, like age, sex, and genetics. You’ve probably noticed, for example, that your metabolism isn’t as fast at age 35 as it was back in your undergraduate years. And, as unfair as it seems, your best friend or partner may have a much easier time getting toned than you do. So let’s be clear: you’re not going to be able to control everything about your overall fitness.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s figure out how to reach your goals. As with eating for wellness, you want to focus mostly on your daily habits and behaviors. Making demands of yourself and setting hard deadlines can set you up for failure and frustration. So, rather than thinking, “I have to be able to run 3 miles by the end of this month,” focus on small victories. You might say, “I want to try walking or running every other morning before I go to work” as a more manageable goal. And if you sleep in or lack the energy to make it happen one morning, you haven’t failed. Just take a 30-minute walk on your lunch hour; you’re still doing a great thing for your body. Or head to bed early so that you can be back on track tomorrow morning.
So, what is the takeaway as you revisit those almost-discarded resolutions? The real change you want to make this year is to prioritize (and enjoy!) the process of achieving greater wellness. After all, we’ve established that you can’t always control the outcome, at least not entirely. And that’s okay! The fact that you’re being mindful every day of your eating choices and physical activity is an achievement in itself.
And, hey, if you’re reading this in, say, July? It’s absolutely never a bad time to change your daily mindset about taking good care of yourself. Don’t wait another day to start making small choices that will help you to feel great. You deserve them now!