Don’t make resolutions for the New Year – make habits for life

There’s nothing wrong with New Year’s resolutions – they can be a great way to focus on something you want to achieve for the year ahead and, while dates are of course arbitrary, taking a moment in late December or early January to think about your goals and what you want to achieve is no bad thing.

But. There’s a reason that most people end up ‘failing’ at New Year’s resolutions, particularly fitness-based ones. In January, gyms are full of people with resolutions to ‘get fit‘, pavements and trails are full of New Year’s resolution runners, and so on. But there’s a reason that in February most of those people are gone, and by March it’s pretty much back to normal. And what is normal? By and large it’s people who’ve made their fitness a habit – people who haven’t made a resolution, but have set themselves a standard that they stick to every week of the year.

Making your fitness a habit means focusing on the lifestyle change, not the resolution. A resolution to ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight’ will quickly fall by the wayside when you realise that a) it’s going to take forever and b) other priorities start to take over again. Making fitness a habit, on the other hand, means it is part of your life, and length of time to achieve any particular goal is irrelevant.

The best example I can give for me personally is brushing my teeth. It’s the kind of boring and seemingly unnecessary task that children have to be forced to do but, as an adult, I feel so uncomfortable if I start my day or go to bed without having brushed my teeth that I will, if necessary, go to considerable effort and inconvenience to make it happen. Not, obviously, because I love the act of brushing my teeth but because it’s become such a powerfully ingrained habit that not doing it is much, much more uncomfortable than just doing it.

Some days, it’s hard to convince myself that, yes, I do want to dash headlong into the maelstrom!

To a, sadly, lesser extent I’ve gradually achieved a similar view of fitness. I often have no desire to go to the gym or go for a run, but doing some kind of daily exercise has become such a habit that I find it very hard to enjoy any other activity if I know I could have done some phys but haven’t. So it’s easier just to suck it up, get out in the rain and run, and then I can enjoy my day. Sure, I take days off but I decide it’s a day off in advance, and have to tell myself that it’s because days off are beneficial, and that just about gets me round the nagging feeling that I should be exercising.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not perfect, but it’s a much better solution for consistent, year-round activity than making a resolution to ‘get fit’ every Jan.

And I know what you’re thinking, all that is well and good but how do you make something a habit in that way? Unfortunately there’s no substitute for just doing it, and that’s the tricky bit. Habit comes through repetition, so setting some kind of target probably is necessary. But don’t focus on the fitness, or the weight; instead tell yourself that you will run 3 (or 2, or 4, or whatever) days a week. Without fail. You will find that time, come what may, and if you get to Sunday and you’re missing a run, then you’re not settling down with a beer and the TV, you’re getting your trainers on and going out in the rain. Track it if you can, socialise it if you can (Strava is great, or just tell people about it), tick off weeks where you achieved your goal, and allow yourself to feel a little bit of healthy and constructive guilt at weeks when you didn’t. It’s that mix of pride and guilt that eventually will make your running a habit, and you’ll no longer have to force yourself because you won’t be capable of not running.

Good luck.

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