The futility of new year’s resolutions

If your new year’s resolution involves one of these, it’s probably doomed from the start (Maskot/Getty Images)

New year is the most interesting time for the fitness industry, we are suddenly inundated with eager new years resolutioners flocking to gyms, swimming pools, parkruns and popular cycling spots determined to “get into shape” or “lose a few pounds”.

The biggest problem here is how vague those terms are, when do you consider yourself to be in shape, and how much weight should you really aim to lose? We need to specify those goals if we want to achieve them, otherwise we’ll just get bored and find the sofa infinitely more interesting than another half an hour running into nothingness on the treadmill or repeating the same exercises in the gym.

A good goal should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time sensitive), so taking the standard “lose weight” goal let’s break it down…

Specific: How much weight do we want to lose? How are we going to lose it?
Measurable: Probably by using a pair of scales, although if we aim to reach a certain % of body fat that could be more complex. Alternatively you could use something more visible like dropping a dress size.
Achievable: Is our weight loss achievable or are we aiming too high? Losing a KG a month with the right training and diet shouldn’t be too hard, so aim for that rather than aiming to lose 5KG a month, as that is unlikely to happen, and you’ll end up disheartened at lack of progress, consoling yourself with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s.
Relevant: Do we really want/need to lose weight? If we’re an arctic explorer, sumo wrestler or shot putter, we may benefit from a little bit around the middle.
Time sensitive: Are you trying to lose weight for a specific date such as your wedding? Is it a realistic goal to be achieved within the time constraints? How much time do you have between now and the wedding? How much time do you have day to day to prepare healthy meals or train?

So rather than simply have a new year’s resolution of “Lose some weight” let’s have a goal of “Losing 1KG per month by running 3 times a week and cutting out ready meals, to allow me to drop a dress size for my wedding dress fitting in June”

This is suddenly a much more engaging goal, which is more likely to make someone reach for their running shoes. However for many people (myself included) this still isn’t enough for long term engagement.

Let’s turn this on its head for a moment, I’m going to set you a new year’s resolution to eat a slice of lemon drizzle cake a day for a year. Chances are your heart just skipped a beat and you’re dying to wait for 1st January to start, the question in the forefront of your mind is probably “Why can’t I start now?”

This is why so many new year’s resolutions fail, if it was something you really wanted to do, you’d have started it by now. The same can be applied to fitness, if you really wanted to lose weight you’d start today rather than putting it off, you want it to feel like an an engaging opportunity rather than a burden.

For the first week or two you’ll be spending all day thinking about your cake, enjoying the moist, sugary textures when you get home from work. After the first few weeks you’ll start getting a bit bored of lemon drizzle and wonder if you could try a bit of carrot cake, or red velvet instead. By March the chances are you’ll never want to see a slice of cake again, and you’ll have failed your new year’s resolution.

Everybody needs variety in life, if you simply run the same route or lift the same weights every day you’ll be sick to the back teeth within a few weeks, even if you enjoyed it initially. We need to take days off, mix the training up, and have secondary goals to work towards, so pulling an idea out the air… we’re going to train for our first triathlon!

Let’s break down our secondary goal using the SMART system

Specific: We need to pick an event which we can afford and can travel to
Measurable: We will have achieved the goal when we cross the finish line
Achievable: We need to make sure we pick a distance within our reach, while it’s possible to complete an Ironman on 6 months training, it’s much wiser to aim for a sprint or olympic distance if we want to enjoy our training and the event
Relevant: We want to lose weight so this will help us achieve that by increasing our physical activity through training
Time specific: This is individual, as it depends on our current fitness and the time we can dedicate to training, but we need to make sure we don’t overstretch ourselves. An Olympic or Sprint distance in the summer should be achievable for all

Now we are focusing on a triathlon, increasing our distances and speeds, chances are we’ll stop worrying about how much weight we’re losing, and instead be in for a shock when our trousers don’t fit anymore or our tights start bunching up. If you choose secondary goals along the way and add variety to your training your focus will drift from obsessing over the scales and move towards positive achievements and medals that you start to collect along the way. When you stop seeing fitness as a burden and learn to fall in love with the process, the results will come thick and fast.

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