Fueled by the promise of a fresh start, it’s easy to whip together a list of resolutions in late December, but sticking to them when the novelty wears off in February is the real test. Don't let that deter you from committing to self-improvements. The key to success is recognizing the common reasons for failure and then actively avoiding them.
We talked to some professional fitness trainers to get their take on why resolutions fail. By recognizing these common reasons for botched goals, you'll be in a better position to stay on track.
Mistake #1: Setting vague goals
"Losing 40 pounds sounds like a great resolution, but how will you achieve it?" Amidor asks. "If you choose to make a long-term resolution, make sure you list several short-term resolutions, such as 'I will switch from drinking regular soda to water or seltzer' or 'I will include a fruit in at least one snack each day.'"
Becky Hand, SparkPeople's registered nutritionist, agrees with the need to pinpoint small but clear goals. "Word all resolutions so you can easily measure them to track your daily and weekly progress," she suggests. "An example might be, 'On Monday and Wednesday night, I will pack my gym bag and place it in my car so I’ll be ready for my Zumba class after work on Tuesday and Thursday.'"
Mistake #2: Not setting a timeframe
Fitness coach Ben Greenfield emphasizes the importance of putting dates around resolutions. "Imagine if you had to run a marathon with no idea where the starting line, ending line or any of the middle points are," he says. "When you set a resolution, you must set a start date, such as 'the first Monday in January I weigh myself,' and an end date or end goal, such as 'I'll lose a pound every two weeks until May 31st, or until I’ve lost 20 pounds.'"
Be realistic when setting your timeline. Rushing the process is a recipe for frustration and failure. Kim Schaper, a certified trainer and nutrition coach in Georgia, recommends a gradual process—especially for those starting their first fitness program. "Instead of going all out in the beginning, ease into it," she suggests. "Remember, the more abrupt the change, the harder to sustain. Slow and gradual is the name of the game."
Mistake #3: Assuming it's "all or nothing"
Angelique Mills, a fitness expert and lifestyle coach from Los Angeles, cautions against the all-or-nothing approach. "There are people with poor nutrition and zero desire to exercise who become so frustrated with their situation that they begin to do the complete opposite: they begin obsessively over-exercising and nearly starve themselves, thinking that this behavior will help them achieve their results quicker," she says. "When they see that this method does not work, they give up. Health and fitness, just like life, is NOT black and white. It’s okay to work with those in-between shades of grey. It is in that balance that you will succeed."
Amidor agrees: "Instead of resolving to never eat your favorite junk food again, resolve to eat healthier food instead of massive portions of your favorite junk food—such as, 'I will only eat one ounce of chocolate a day and couple it with a fruit.' The addition of fruit can help curb your sweet tooth and add more fruit into your diet, which most people lack."
Mistake #4: Keeping resolutions under wraps
Greenfield included this as one of his biggest resolution mistakes. "You can increase your accountability, motivation and potential to stick with your workout goals if you share your progress using Facebook, Twitter or your own blog. You can also share your actual workouts by getting a workout buddy or even hiring a personal trainer," he says.
Mistake #5: Program hopping
In the digital fitness landscape, you're always just a click away from the next big exercise craze or fitness plan. With the dizzying array of options, it can be tempting to skip around and try different programs.
Schaper advises against program hopping. "Aim to focus on one person or program you trust," she recommends. "Remember, you can always change routes, but the more you look for several answers, the more confused, anxious and unsure you become. After choosing a program, stick with it and shut off the outside noise of outside opinions. What works for one person might not work for you."