It's hard to be optimistic about New Year's resolutions when 50 to 80 percent of them are destined to fail. The fitness industry often bases its business model on the frailty of resolutions, certain that most of the mob of new gym members in January will be missing in action by April. It takes a certain mentality to transform a workout resolution into a done deal. Psychologists have mapped out routes to dodge human nature's traps and help people reach their fitness goals, despite the odds.
Conscientiousness is a pretty good indicator of ability to accomplish goals, says Stephen Graef, a sports psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. People in the habit of getting things done are a bit more likely to have success.
But that doesn't mean the rest of us — the ones whose failed resolutions subsidize gym rats' workouts — should give up. All it takes is some determination and an end to the "wing it" approach. Like buying a car or going on vacation, the decision to exercise more, join a gym or pick up a new physical activity should include research. It's "just about being deliberate," Graef says.
1. Make your goals specific.
Instead of choosing vague resolutions like getting fitter, choose tangible outcome goals that address fitness — completing a 10K run, for example. People should take baby steps, or process goals, to put those larger goals into action. They might need to buy shoes, get a running coach or join a gym.
2. Pick your ideal gym.
If you are joining a gym, the one where you feel most comfortable has the best chance of drawing you throughout the year, Graef says. Visit a few to be sure traveling there is convenient, the aesthetics resonate with you and the staff is friendly and accommodating. If the staff gives good introductions to the equipment, and the classes interest you and work with your schedule, the gym could be a good fit.
3. Build up to your goals.
Once you've formulated your detailed plan, put it on paper. Research shows written goals are met more often than ones that aren't written. Then start out with small actions and practice them enough to form habits, laying down new neural pathways in the brain. If a daily morning gym workout is the goal, start with one pushup at home the first morning, then two the next morning and so on. Once you're confident in that routine, transfer the exercise to the gym and build from there. Celebrate process goal wins along the way to the outcome goal to help keep you motivated.
4. Prepare to mess up.
Planning for failure — which is quite common, especially in the first two months of the year — is crucial. Avoid self-loathing when you fail. It brings your mood down, decreases confidence and puts goals that much further out of reach. Falling off the path doesn't make you a terrible person; it just means you're off the path. When, not if, you fail, it's important for your future success to know how to recover and reconnect to your plan. You could get back on track by making up missed classes, for example.
5. Imagine achieving your goals.
Graef offers one more method competitive athletes often use to reach goals: visualization. If dragging yourself to the gym is the challenge, picture yourself repeatedly slogging through the snow to your car on a cold morning and driving to the gym. When you've seen something before, even if only in your mind's eye, it becomes more realizable. "What the brain believes the body achieves," Graef says.