Gym regulars call them tourists - all the
haltingly eager new faces who show up at this
time every year, propelled by New Year's resolutions.
We call them tourists, because most will be
gone after a few weeks or maybe months. By
summer, only the hardcore remain.
Fitness clubs rely on reluctant, uncommitted
members like Alaskan bears rely on spawning
salmon. Each year, especially during certain
seasons, new members show up at the clubs
and provide a burst of revenue, while taking
up very little space. Once the resolve of
these new members expires, their attendance
at the gym wanes and then ends altogether.
Fortunately for the fitness clubs, many absent
members are tied into contracts or are too
embarrassed to admit that they no longer have
the resolve to commit to exercise, so they
keep paying, even though they no longer use
the facilities. One club owner told me that
absent paying members are essential for a
club to stay in business. If only the people
who used the club paid, there would be no
club for them to go to.
If an entire industry can survive on abandoned
resolutions and weak commitment, these are
obviously common struggles. I know that they
have been for me at certain times in my life.
I've begun each year with grand expectations
of myself, only to slowly lose my grip on
the efforts required to meet those expectations.
I rationalize my failures and postpone my
efforts, telling myself that unexpected challenges
- surely not my resolve - impeded my goals
and promising myself that I'll get back on
track next week . . . next month . . . next
quarter. By the end of the year, I set the
same unrealized goals for the next year.
It's a cycle that many repeat year after
year, until they give up making resolutions,
but it doesn't have to be this way. If we
are honest with the obstacles standing between
us and successful resolutions, we give ourselves
a much better chance at success.
The most common obstacle in successful resolutions
is familiarity. When we set a resolution,
we resolve to do something unfamiliar to us.
If our goal is to lose weight, we either have
to alter our diet and/or exercise more frequently.
Both of those activities take us to unfamiliar
and perhaps uncomfortable territory.
If you've ever seen a shy child on his first
day of kindergarten, you know what I'm talking
about. He sees this bright loud (and somewhat
enticing) world in front of him, but it's
so different from the comforts of being at
home with his parents that he resists entering
and instead clings to his mother's leg, begging
to go with her when she leaves. The person
who is trying to lose weight, though not perhaps
as dramatically, feels that way when they
get off the couch and head to the gym. They
know that they need to go to the gym, but
the comfort of familiarity is hard to resist.
Habit needs familiarity to survive. Ask any
current of former smoker for evidence. When
someone is trying to quit smoking, they must
identify the triggers that make them crave
a cigarette, such as drinking alcohol or coffee,
and plan for how they will conquer the impulses
triggered by those activities. If they fail
to plan, it's very hard to resist the temptation
to return to familiarity.
Planning is key to successful resolutions.
We can't simply say that we are going to get
to work earlier in the morning. We have to
look at our entire morning routine to identify
why we struggle to get to work earlier. It
might not be as simple as getting up and going
to bed earlier; you might need to examine
your pre-sleep routine to ensure that you
are setting yourself up for a good night's
sleep. Likewise, are there tasks, like setting
up the coffee and packing your bag, that you
can do the night before?
It's important to plan for the execution
of your resolutions, but it's also important
to note the small ways that they improve your
life. What does getting to work earlier do
for you? Do you enjoy less traffic on your
commute? Do you feel more relaxed and ready
to take on the day? Do you achieve more in
less time? It's important to allow yourself
to enjoy these small victories, because they
provide motivation to continue your resolution.
We set resolutions for a reason - we want
to improve ourselves and our situations. We
fail at resolutions because we fail to plan
for success and then forget to celebrate small
victories along the way. Consider looking
at your current resolutions and getting yourself
back on track, if you are falling short. If
you don't have any resolutions, don't make
yourself wait for 2013. Start today.