Updated: Jan 1
The most common New Years Resolutions are weight loss, improving diet and doing more exercise. And most are ditched within a few weeks or months. And then we try again, year after year.
I don't believe this means we should give up trying, but that we need to change our approach. Rather than saying “I’ll have to try harder this year” or “I just need to try [insert that year’s exercise or diet trend]” how about we start by learning why what we've done so far hasn't worked.
Based on my experience working with clients as a personal trainer and triathlon coach over the last 10 years, here are my top learnings on where things go wrong and how to ensure your goals succeed.
Ditch the all or nothing thinking
When I discuss steps towards a goal with clients they invariably propose answers such as ‘give up chocolate’ or ‘train every day’. When I suggest that these will be hard to maintain and instead recommend focussing on something more realistic, most will say “but I’m an all or nothing person”.
I used to accept this. Now I challenge it. I’ve hardly ever seen it work. By the fact we’re even discussing the issue, it almost always means they were ‘an all person’ with some great results for a few weeks, and quickly ended up ‘a nothing person’ (with respect to that particular goal).
The all or nothing approach teaches nothing about how to adapt plans to meet the changing realities of life, and instead just reinforces their self-belief that they ‘are weak’ and ‘cant stick to the rules’ rather than that the rules were wrong.
Instead we work on putting together a pathway to get there that is realistic, that they can imagine doing next week, and the week after, and months later when the initial excitement has worn off, that can be part of building a healthier, happier, lasting way of life.
Before you write that off as not working for you, because you need hard rules to follow, ask yourself if your way is working for you? If it is then stick to it! You have found something that works for you. But if not, if you're back at the 'nothing' stage, wouldn't it be better to try something different?
Don't just focus on the big goal. Know your journey to get there
Rather than just focusing on the end goal to ‘lose 10kg’ or ‘complete an Ironman’, think about what that means in the next month, and the month after that, and after that. The vision of the perfect beach body, or crossing the Ironman finishing line is great, but it’s a world away from the smaller, less exciting steps, and hard work we need to take to get there.
Whether we’re trying to build fitness or change body composition, it’s consistency that determines our success and so we need to build the connection between the end point and what it will feel like to get there.
Of course one key part of this is the planning process. Breaking the big goal down into sub goals and activities to get there. But I’m also talking about literally imagining what it will feel like to get out of bed to do that workout tomorrow, even though you’re tired and it’s cold outside and warm in bed. Or to not reach straight for a snack next time you fancy one. To imagine the barriers and challenges and work through them so we don't fall down at the same things each time.
And then let's actually appreciate those steps. If we want them to be part of our life we need to find a way to make them positive rather than dreading them and writing them off before we even start.
Make time and conscious decisions to meet your goal
Most people underestimate the time needed to meet their goals. Wanting to improve your diet does take time. Ditto training for a race. We want the results, but we underestimate the time needed to get there, and then criticise ourselves for not meeting our goals, but don’t change our priorities to make the time needed.
And that brings us to the next part of not having time. The most common reason I’ll hear for not doing a workout or meal prep is not having time. In a small number of cases this might be true, but more often I believe it’s that we’ve not made time.
We’ve not decided at what point in the day we’re going to do the activity, and instead hoped it will magically happen. The challenge of actually setting aside time to meet our goals is that then we have to choose between doing that and something else. To consciously decide which is more important. Rather than deciding by default because you never even asked the question. Sometimes the answer will be “I need to stay at work late today because I have a deadline” and so you wont train. That’s fine, you made a conscious decision.
If that keeps happening then you need to ask which is more important. Do you accept you will work late every day and therefore need to change your goal? Or are you prepared to change something in order to meet your goals? Make the decision conscious and accept your decision rather than beating yourself up each time that you don't magically manage to fit everything in.
Develop a supporting mindset
Underpinning all my points so far is mindset. Constantly criticising and undermining ourselves doesn’t work.
Telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, that everyone else is better, that we should give up trying because we’re bound to fail or because of 'what will others will think’, not only undermines our attempts to change but means we have a pretty miserable time doing it.
We would never try to motivate a child or a colleague by speaking to them the way we speak to ourselves!
Doing work (and for most of us it is significant work) to change our mindset to one that works with us, that seeks out the best for us, that sees the positives and helps us be more confident and content makes a massive difference. I’ve seen it in my own life over the last year and I’m seeing it in my clients.
Learn from what hasn’t worked
Going back to the point that I started with – we can learn so much and improve our chance of success if we truly try and learn from our experiences. We all know the Einstein quote that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”, yet we keep doing the same thing over and over.
If your training or diet didn’t happen as planned last week, don’t just say “I need to try harder”. Ask why. Don’t just accept the first answer, but ask why that was the case, and why again. Keep going until you get to the root of it, and then see how you can build this learning into your plan for next week.
Those are my five. What are your learnings? And what do you plan to do differently in 2023?
If you want any help learning how to change your approach, or want to discuss training plans, coaching or personal training, give me a shout! Drop me a message or book in a free call.