In January, everyone makes well-meaning commitments to hit the gym and get fit. Gym membership skyrockets at the beginning of the year. But come February and the slump already hits hard. By February, 80& of people drop off on their fitness resolutions, and there is a marked decline of people at the gym. Why do so many people fail at continuing their fitness resolutions past a month? And what can you do to power through the slump and stay motivated? Here are 5 tips to maintain your fitness resolutions and achieve your fitness goals long-term.
1. LOWER THE EFFORT
The problem is that most people think they need to really sweat and struggle during every workout for it to count. After all, “no pain, no gain” has become a popular fitness quote. So in January, people start off strong and put in major effort to reach their fitness goals.
Unfortunately, starting off with such excessive effort can work against you in the long run. Our brain is actually wired to encourage us to avoid physical effort. Our brain is constantly monitoring our body for any changes from our resting state, which could signify danger to our health. The physical effort we exert, the more our brain is signaled that the activity isn’t worth the effort and potential risk. This leads us to feel less motivated by the time February comes around.
So if you find yourself struggling to maintain your fitness resolutions, it may actually help you in the long run to minimize the effort you put in. For example, people start to fall off the wagon when they think about (and dread) the hour-long cardio exercise they have planned, or how hard and tiring the spin class will be. If you hate going to the gym, but enjoy dance classes, do that instead. Find an activity that you enjoy and can motivate yourself to do more easily. Or just do a 10-15 minute jog or workout video (plenty can be found on YouTube) from the comfort of your own home. Exercise doesn’t have to be long or high-effort. Just make sure you keep on moving!
2. MAKE IT FUN
Again, exercise doesn’t have to be painful or grueling. If you’re trying to force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, this is going to trigger that part of your brain that tells you to avoid “painful” things that stresses out your body.
Instead of treating exercise like a chore, try to find something you actually enjoy. The best fitness routine is one you’ll actually do. So try lots of different sports, classes, and workout styles to find something you like, then mix them up so your brain and body don’t get bored of the same exact workouts.
3. CREATE SHORT-TERM GOALS
Another motivational mistake we often make is that our January goals are too big or too far in the future. Most people set a far-off “final” goal (like losing 30 pounds, or being able to fit into an old pair of jeans). But when the desired outcome (ie. 30 pounds) is so far in the future, or seems like a huge effort to actually accomplish, our brains start to disconnect the motivation (fitting into our jeans) with exercising. This means we become less inclined to continue working out.
By choosing goals that have more immediate outcomes, our brains will then associate the positive outcome with exercise. For example, if you set your goal to be to lose 5 pounds at a time instead of 30, the mood-boosting benefits of exercise will occur more quickly, even if you don’t see huge physical differences, motivating you to continue exercising well past January. Break up your fitness goals into smaller, more immediate ones you can achieve sooner, and the long-term benefits will follow.
4. FOCUS ON BEING VS. HAVING
Another motivational fix is to change the mentality of the goals you have set. Most people set “have” goals as their New Year’s resolutions. “Have” goals–such as working out to have a better body–actually have little effect on our motivational brain, which focuses on more important concepts like building social bonds and being effective at what we do. Our brains view these “have” type goals as less important since they do not help us meet essential goals that help us thrive in society.
On the other hand, “be” goals–such as exercising in order to be healthy or to be more athletic–are more likely to keep us motivated. “Be” goals are better motivators because we as humans tend to want to bond with other like-minded people based on our identities. It is believed that these motivations developed because forming bonds helped us to survive in the past. As a result, most people do a better job of sticking to “be” goals rather than “have” goals.
If you have found yourself slacking in terms of your fitness resolution goals, try reframing your goals from what you want to “have” to what you want to “be.” This change in approach may help you maintain your fitness regime for the rest of the year.
5. POWER OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Finally, the key difference between people who stick with their fitness plans and those who fall off the wagon is accountability.
Again, the workouts don’t have to be hard, excruciating work. Find a friend who would like to work out with you, then ask them to help hold you accountable to all your other sessions (even the ones they don’t join you for). This way, even if they don’t join you for 100% of your workouts, they can still be an enthusiastic motivator for your journey. You can share with them your weekly training plans, then check in with them when you’ve completed it. If they don’t hear from you, you can ask them to follow up.
Try to find a workout buddy who pushes you to be your best. Once you have someone, make plans to meet for workouts, group classes, runs, etc. You are far less likely to make an excuse to ditch the workout if there is someone expecting you to show up. If you don’t have a suitable workout buddy, or even if you just want better accountability, a personal trainer can not only do a fantastic job of motivating you and keeping you accountable, but they can also help you design a training schedule that’s customized and geared towards reaching your fitness goals most effectively.