It never fails. The first day of the new year is always terribly busy at the gym. Many of the faces are unfamiliar; the regulars know to stay away (or at least, to switch their workout time to one of the daily slow periods). Of the 20 participants in my morning step class, at least 3 were brand new to step, with another 2 or 3 new to my class.
While I’m thrilled to see newcomers (maybe MY class will be the one that turns them on to fitness!), I can’t help but feel a bit cynical. How many of them will still be here in a month? 3 months? next year?
Establishing a new habit is at least as difficult as breaking an old one. How does the old joke go? Quitting smoking/drinking/overeating is easy; I’ve done it a million times! Research suggests that it takes no fewer than 21 days of conscientiously practicing a new habit for it to ‘stick’ or become routine.
In the case of exercise, which you might only do three times a week to begin with, that translates into 7 weeks of hitting the gym without fail before it becomes less of a struggle and a more regular part of your schedule (notice the italics; it will still be a struggle for many of you at this point and you are unlikely to be at the stage where you schedule your workouts before all else for a long, long time).
How can you increase your odds of still being in the running when the pack thins out come February? Set some goals for yourself and make sure they’re S.M.A.R.T.
Specific; goals like ‘lose weight’, ‘get fit’, and ‘increase muscle tone’ are general and vague. Without a clear view of where you want to end up, you’re unlikely to be successful.
Measurable; make your goal something measurable, like pounds on the scale, number of pushups you will do, minutes you’ll be able to run. If your goal is measurable, you can see your progress and adjust your effort accordingly. Plus, you’ll know when you’ve attained it!
Attainable; a goal that you can actually achieve! Never run before? Don’t plan on running a marathon anytime soon. Need to lose 20 lbs? Give yourself more than a month. Start with small, short-term goals that you have some possibility of achieving!
Realistic; is the path you’ve planned to get you to your goal something that you can reasonably expect to do? For example, if you never get up before noon on a Saturday how realistic is it to commit to an early morning weekend running group? You need to be very honest with yourself about your own limitations and shortcomings when deciding whether a goal or the path to a goal is realistic.
Timely; give yourself a time frame. Make sure it’s not too far in the future. You want to be able to get there sometime soon. If your goal is longer term (for example, running a marathon next fall), break it down into shorter, more meaningful intervals. Athletes do this when prepping for a big race or competition.
An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal?
Sally wants to start exercising again. She has signed up for a 2-day-per-week Level 1 bootcamp (Specific, Realistic, Attainable) at her local rec center (Attainable and Realistic because it’s close to home and affordable), in the evenings (Attainable because she’s not an early morning person). At the end of the three month program (Timely), Sally will be fit enough (Measurable; the instructor will be able to tell her that’s ready for this progression) to move up to the Level 2 program which meets 3 days per week.
How S.M.A.R.T. are your goals?