Recovered Resolutions

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.