So as we enter February, for many our new years’ resolutions are long forgotten and those promises made to ourselves have fallen along the way because it was just ‘too much effort’. A strong statement to open with, and perhaps a little harsh for those that are still sticking with those changes made, but for many the pressure for change come the new year is just too much and this can often be attributed purely to the desire to change too much too soon. The term ‘new year, new year’ is commonplace at the turn of the year (guess it would sound a bit odd at any other time of the year!!), and the fitness industry is particularly guilty of using the resolutions brigade to swell their memberships, only for the gym floor to return to its previous years’ appearance within weeks of annual memberships being signed. So why is it, that every year we promise to eat healthily, quit smoking/drinking, exercise more, be polite to our neighbours and so on, only to slowly return to our old ways within weeks of our life changing revelations? In my opinion it is this insistence that we change everything at once that is ultimately our downfall. For starters, the majority of changes that we attempt to make revolve around habits, behaviours that we have practised, often subconsciously, for months, years or even decades and then at the strike of a clock we dive straight in and say no more. Something that has become an ingrained part of our lives, whether intentionally or not and whether for our benefit or not, is suddenly thrust aside often with no more thought than a little social pressure to change because it’s a new year.
And it’s not just the habit itself that changes. Take the smoker who no longer joins his ‘puff buddies’ sheltered outside and chatting, or the overweight person who regularly meets with his/her friends at the local burger bar to socialise and interact. The new gym goer who must suddenly rearrange their schedules to fit in their weekly classes and gym sessions, or even the neighbour who struggles with small talk interacting with those that live next door. These are often not considered when changes are made, and add to that the pressure to fit in with your peers and often it seems that it is your friends who are doing their best to sabotage your great plans for a healthier you!
So what’s the answer? It may be helpful to take step back and ask yourself, am I taking on too much? Have I charged in like a bull in a china shop without considering the consequences and the knock on effects of my new behaviours? Now before you think I am giving you excuses not to change, just consider for a moment the enormity of the task, or even tasks, at hand and think of steps to take to make long term change possible and reduce the chances of failure. Why stop doing the things you enjoy completely and make yourself miserable in the name of making yourself healthier and happier? Makes no sense does it. So this is where taking smaller steps towards your bigger goal can pay dividends. Some people (we’ll call them the lucky ones) can quit a habit ‘cold turkey’ and are able to resist their urges and ignore peer pressure, but for most this is a struggle. For the majority of people a ‘less is more’ approach may be worthwhile considering, focusing on long term success as opposed to immediate action and an increased likelihood of relapse. So the person looking to lose weight could still attend his weekly burger date, and by making small changes still achieve his desired reduction in calories; small fries instead of large, no cheese on his burger, water rather than soda and so on, all changes that will reduce his/her calorific intake without drawing attention to the fact that they are dieting and hence avoiding the good natured ribbing that often accompanies such an attempt. Similarly, there’s more to a fitness regime than hitting every class available and or hitting the gym every day which inevitably ends in burn out and sore bodies. Sure do a class or two or lift weights a few times a week, but start gradually and build up, all the while looking to add more movement into everyday life, walking more, playing with the kids or dusting off the bike or rediscovering a sport. The point is to gradually introduce the changes you wish to make while maintaining a good social/family life and these changes are more likely to become permanent and create new habits. Giving up smoking may present a much tougher challenge, but even in this case a small reduction in usage is definitely a start and slowly one can try to cut down further and avoid situations where smoking is undertaken, hopefully leading to the eventual ending of the habit.
So please keep making positive changes, but don’t overdo it in one go, give some thought as to how you can increase your chances of success, and as and when you feel you need to change, do so…… don’t wait ’til January 1st when the world and his wife jump on the healthier me bandwagon only to fall off weeks later.