The new year is almost upon us. Crazy, I know. It feels like just yesterday we celebrated the arrival of 2019, yet here we go again.
Amid all the excitement and festivities, the end of the year also brings about a new wave of motivation.
Indeed, most of us take the start of each year as a chance to get ourselves on a better path and finally achieve our goals. New year, new me, right?
Don’t get me wrong – that’s great. The only issue is, most folks give up by the end of January and revert to their old ways. According to unofficial statistics, as much as 92 percent of people give up before February even comes around.
All of this begs the question:
How does one stick with their new year’s resolution and achieve lasting success?
This is quite the nuanced question, and no single solution will work for everyone. But, there are specific strategies we can all use to increase our chances of success.
Without further ado, here are five of them:
1. Start With A Sustainable Pace
The reason why we usually drop positive behaviors early on is that we try to make drastic changes from the get-go. In the context of fitness, this usually means going on a rigid diet and training plan right from the start.
Of course, we do that because we want quicker results. And drastic changes tend to deliver them as promised. The problem is, these changes are not sustainable. Sure, we can all dedicate ourselves to a rigid plan for a time, be it a week, or a month. But what happens after? The point isn’t only to achieve a given outcome – we also need to retain it afterward.
What good is, for example, weight loss if you’re unable to maintain it afterward? Nothing more than a waste of time, energy, and money. In most cases, we end up tired, hungry, and unmotivated. Behaviors like binge eating begin to occur, and we end up re-gaining all of the lost weight, and then some. This is the all too common yo-yo effect in action.
So, what can we do about all of that? Fair warning: the answer isn’t sexy or exciting.
Imagine that fitness is much like running a marathon. You need to conserve your energy and run at a sustainable pace so you can make it to the finish line. If you bolt off from the start, you’ll end up exhausted before you’ve done even a tenth of the journey.
For example, rather than starting a six-day training program, dedicate yourself to two weekly workouts. Rather than make each workout over an hour-long, do twenty minutes. Rather than go on a rigid diet that restricts all of your favorite foods, make it a point to have a healthy and nutritious breakfast each morning.
The point is, start small and pick changes you can sustain. And, most importantly, be as consistent as you can with these minor improvements. Over time, as you establish these habits, you can build on them. Two weekly workouts can turn into three. Twenty minutes of exercise can go up to half an hour. One healthy meal a day can turn into two. But you need to establish a solid foundation first.
It’s much easier to scale positive habits later than to make significant changes right from the start. This is how you gain momentum and become consistent.
2. Avoid The Gimmicks And Shortcuts — Focus On The Basics Instead.
In life as well as in fitness, there’s a trend for chasing shiny objects – a new diet, a revolutionary training program, that new fat-burning pill that will finally get you to lose weight, and more.
Everywhere you look, someone is selling something: a gimmick, an ancient Chinese secret, a shortcut. If you’re new to fitness and don’t know how things work (which is entirely normal and okay), it can be easy to fall for big promises.
After all, why would you listen to me telling you to aim for a pound of weight loss per week, when someone is offering you the chance to lose twenty pounds in a month?
But, as the old saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
The fact is, most of the grandiose promises out there are nothing more than scams and marketing ploys designed to reel as many people in and make the most amount of money. Or, if a given approach does work as advertised, it’s not something you can sustain in the long run.
So, rather than chase gimmicks, tricks, and secrets, focus on the basics and make consistency your priority. This means:
- Eat a healthy diet, and be mindful of your overall caloric intake. Don’t chase the latest fad diet.
- Do some resistance training with a focus on progressively getting stronger. Don’t go for the latest and ‘revolutionary’ workout routine.
- Get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Don’t go for fat-burning supplements and other ‘tricks’ that promise the impossible.
Focusing on the basics isn’t as exciting, but it’s what drives long-term progress.
3. Be Consistent, Not Perfect
Prevailing wisdom suggests that we need to go all-in with everything we do if we ever hope to achieve something good. This is especially the case when it comes to fitness – you should either do everything perfectly or not bother at all.
The problem is, this all or nothing mentality can be quite damaging to our long-term progress with fitness and other self-improvement endeavors.
When most newbies start with fitness, they set incredibly high goals and create unsustainable plans of action. Rather than start with a simple exercise routine, they go on an incredibly difficult and high-frequency program. Rather than make small improvements to their nutrition, they begin a restrictive diet.
Of course, this is logical because we all want results quickly, and these high-effort plans of action are the only way to get there. Only there’s a problem with this:
Trying to be perfect all the time (especially with a challenging fitness plan) is not possible. We’re human, and we can’t always perform at a hundred percent. And, when the inevitable slip-up happens (be it missing a workout, having an unhealthy meal, or something else), we get frustrated and start feeling guilty.
What’s the bottom line here?
Well, for one, perfection is the enemy of good. Getting bogged down on the smallest of details won’t make a day and night difference. In fact, it often makes us miss the big picture and the tactics that deliver the majority of progress.
Second, don’t underestimate the power of consistency. Two weekly workouts don’t seem like much, but that turns out to be 104 in a year or an equivalent of 100-110 hours of exercise. One healthy meal per day means you’ll eat healthily 365 times in the next year. Five minutes of meditation in the morning scale up to just over 30 hours of mindfulness and bliss in a year.
On their own, these small actions don’t feel like much. But, as you can see, they add up and can make a tremendous difference in the long-run.
4. Get More Sleep
“Oh, here we go with sleep again.”
Yes, yes, I hear you. Sleep isn’t exactly the most exciting of subjects. In fact, it’s the polar opposite. Yet we need it so much. Plus, given the fact that we spend about a third of our lives sleeping – give or take – we should have at least a basic understanding of it.
For one, sleep is tightly linked to athletic performance, and research has shown that getting enough of it helps with:
So, if you want to maximize your gym performance, you need to catch up on sleep.
Second, sleep heavily influences our cognitive function and motivation. In other words, getting adequate sleep leads to a stable and happy mood, better focus, more energy, and greater motivation to do things.
Third, sleep is vital for our hormonal balance and metabolic health. Research has shown that sleep deprivation leads to disbalances, such as:
- Reduced testosterone (which is particularly bad for men)
- Increase in ghrelin (a hunger hormone which can make us overeat)
- A decrease in leptin (a meta hormone, most notably known for its properties to regulate our appetite and metabolic rate)
- Decreased ability to burn fat
- Raise in blood glucose levels
- Decreased ability to build muscle (which is probably a product of hormonal disbalances as well as decreased ability and willingness to train hard)
What’s more, sleep deprivation adds up to what researchers refer to as sleep debt. The worst bit is, we become so used to the lack of sleep that we can’t accurately gauge how deprived, tired, and unfocused we are. Yet, that deprivation affects our productivity, health, athletic performance, and pretty much every system and process within the body.
So, the million-dollar question is, how much sleep do we need?
It’s difficult to say, as we are all different and, sadly, there isn’t a single answer for everyone. But, research seems to suggest that seven to nine hours per night is the sweet spot for most people. It’s worth experimenting to find out exactly how much you need to feel at your best.
5. Focus On Yourself And Avoid Social Media
Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have this tendency to compare ourselves to other people. It’s human nature, I guess. We are social creatures and we have this innate need to be accepted and know where we stand in comparison to other people.
So, without even realizing it, we do it all the time. But, as you’ve probably noticed, comparing yourself to others rarely brings anything positive. In fact, it often serves to make us feel miserable about ourselves.
So, what is there to do?
For one, keep in mind that our perceived flaws are often just in our heads because we are our own worst critics. Have you ever had a conversation with a friend or a relative, and you shared something you don’t like about yourself? Chances are, they probably looked at you a bit confused and said something along the lines of, “You know, I never noticed that about you.”
Most of the time, the negative thoughts we have are in our heads. We spend the entirety of each day with ourselves, so we are bound to find things to dislike about ourselves – things, mind you, that other people will never notice in a thousand years.
Second, learn to avoid social media as much as you can. If comparing yourself to others in the real world is bad, then doing so on social media is ten times worse. Why?
For one, what we usually see on social media is not necessarily real. Many ‘influencers’ today have a full-time job of crafting an image of themselves on social media – one that often isn’t consistent with reality. The use of filters, photoshop, and tens, if not hundreds of takes for a single selfie, are more common than you think. In other words, we see carefully-crafted highlights and nothing more.
As an average person, scrolling through social media all day, looking at these supposedly perfect people with seemingly perfect lives won’t motivate you to do better yourself. It will only serve to make you feel bad about yourself and the way you look.
Comparisons like that often lead to body image issues, depression, and overall dissatisfaction with one’s life.
So, what can you do in this case?
Well, the best advice I can give you is to focus on yourself. I know – easier said than done. But it’s a necessary step we all have to make if we want to be satisfied with ourselves, our efforts, and our results. I also recommend that you spend less time on social media. Or, if you do spend time on it, at least follow channels and people who deliver positive and beneficial information.