5 Science-Backed Ways to Stick To Your Resolutions

January is the busiest time of the year for gyms—and there’s always a backlash from the existing gym fraternity who don’t like seeing their space invaded. But after a holiday season full of overindulgence, people are particularly motivated (or guilty) to start a healthy lifestyle. Regardless of all that enthusiasm, most of those who attempt a New Year’s resolution fall off by mid-February.

Image courtesy health.com
Image courtesy health.com

This is partly because new gym goers don’t see results fast enough – or don’t get into a consistent routine long enough to develop a habit – but the gym culture isn’t exactly welcoming, either.

Message for those in the fitness industry: This January, instead of gawking at the “newbies” and their poor form, posting discouraging memes on twitter, and taking up three spots in the parking lot with your Honda Civic, maybe give them the benefit of the doubt. You were there once. Try to remember how hard it was to get to the gym consistently before the habit set in.

If people are free of worry at the gym, they can focus on taking strides to get healthier, working hard without judgment, and that’s good for all of us. The fitness industry is at the forefront of preventative care and is the only surefire way to offset immeasurable health care costs and the skyrocketing rise in obesity. We must make it a comfortable place for all.

With that out of the way, for those looking to set a New Year’s resolution around adopting a healthy lifestyle (or anything for that matter), here are five science-backed ways to increase your probability of success.

  1. Make It Manageable

A resolution shouldn’t be unrealistic. If you’ve never lifted weights before, suddenly going from nothing to five workouts a week and a strict fitness model diet isn’t going to work because you’ll end up hitting a wall and quitting. Resolutions should be both specific and measurable—studies show that setting broad, vague goals can lead to depression. Focus on winning each day. Kick Monday in the ass and then wake up ready to do all you need to do to make Tuesday equally as successful. Ask yourself, “Can I do it today?” The answer is usually yes. Don’t skip 10 steps ahead. Focus on the journey.

Making a change – whether that be lifestyle or otherwise – is a marathon, not a sprint. Have a long-term focus (goal physique) to aspire to, but have specific goals to accomplish along the way at staggered intervals (one month, three months, six months etc.). I think people fail when they look too far ahead. It’s smart to aim high and set big goals, but you need incremental goals along the way, otherwise you’ll get discouraged and quit without realizing all the progress you’ve made.

  1. Make A Habit Of It

For most people, upending a lifetime of habits doesn’t happen overnight. The key to sustainable resolutions is to make changes smaller and more gradual. Start with 2-3 workouts per week with no changes to diet – only adjusting your diet once the workouts have become a habit.

In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, a team of researchers aimed to see just how long it takes to form a habit. The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt.

Some people chose simple habits like “drinking a bottle of water with lunch.” Others chose more difficult tasks, like a commitment to fitness, i.e. “running for 15 minutes before dinner.” At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it.

On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic – 66 days to be exact.

Give it an honest effort for two months – that’s it. I promise you the gym will become something you look forward to once the habit is formed.

  1. Don’t Play The Victim

Ditch the excuses and defeatist attitude before you start – if you approach your lifestyle change with the mentality that you’ll fail, you will. Don’t let those mental barriers (“oh, but my mom and dad gave me bad genes so it’s inevitable”) stop you from getting started. In fact, a recent study published in Psychological Science, showed that obese people who saw the American Medical Association’s decision to call obesity a “disease” were more likely to choose high calorie foods and less likely to self-regulate their diet than those who didn’t.

Ultimately, if you don’t think your weight is a problem or figure there’s no use trying because of your genetics, you’ll almost assuredly fail. Alternatively, believing you have a problem that requires fixing and not letting the prospect of quitting enter your conscience will better set you up for success. You have to want to change to change. Don’t let mental hurdles hold you back.

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  1. Seek Out a Mentor

One word: mentorship. No one gets successful, reaches their goals, yada yada, on an island. If you’re clueless in the gym or when it comes to diet, find someone who knows what they’re doing and piggyback off their knowledge. You can hire a personal trainer to hold your hand that first couple months of workouts, or find a friend who knows their stuff and pick their brain. I’ve got two spots left in my January 5 coaching promo at 50% off my regular rates.

  1. Find a Support Group

It’s the loss aversion principle, which was first documented in a study published in American Psychologist in the 80s and has seen a lot of research since, which refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Put some money on the line with a group of friends and whoever sees the best results gets the pot (and the others LOSE their investment). Now that’s motivation!

Thinking out loud here, but the best gym concept in the world would be one that penalizes members for missing a week. Let’s say your monthly fee goes up by $50 every time you are absent for seven straight days. Harsh, I know, but that gym would be full of success stories.

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.