January 17 is Ditch Your New Year's Resolutions Day, at least according to the internet. Fitness chains around the country are beginning to see a drop-off in member check-ins. UW Health Fitness Center staff have noticed it too – good intentions give way to ingrained habits.
So, how do you keep your efforts to make lasting change? You take it one step at a time.
Take a flight of stairs - if your goal is to go up the steps and get to the top, you don't start by running and trying to clear the steps all at once. Instead, you take one step at a time. The problem is that it can be boring and frustrating to go slowly. That's one reason why so many of us find ourselves in mid-February with a gym membership we no longer use.
Instead, Fitness Center staff like to remind clients that, "each minute, each hour, each day is new. We have the opportunity to start fresh all of the time." Unhealthy habits developed over time so it's going to take time to move beyond them.
Reassess What You're Trying to Do
If you've stalled out on your resolutions, reassess what you're trying to accomplish and how reasonable it actually is. If it's going from not exercising at all to running a marathon in a few months, that takes a tremendous amount of commitment to changing your exercise and eating habits -- like trying to clear several steps at once. Instead just focus on the first step.
More changes will naturally start to follow even if you just do one thing at a time. As people start to move more, frequently they start to eat better as well. They start to sleep better, and then because they're better rested and exercising more they may even feel a bit less stressed as well.
Identify What's Really Important
Another step is to figure out what's actually important to you. It can feel like the list of healthy things we're supposed to do keeps getting longer – cook at home, practice mindfulness, exercise, get sleep, etc. – and it can be overwhelming. When you identify what's truly important, you can focus your energies on that rather than making changes because you feel obligated to.
It's also important to remember that setbacks are normal and happen to everyone, even professional athletes. The difference is how you respond to them.
But Fitness Center staff comment that whether it's work, a sick child, or your own illness, it's important not to beat yourself up. Focus instead on getting back on track. Perfection isn't important, but it is important to be patient and persistent. Recognize that sometimes exercise just isn't high on our list of priorities at a particular time, and return to exercise as soon as we can.
Figure Out Your Obstacles
Be aware of the environment around you and identify any obstacles or challenges that might affect your ability to make changes. Are you hanging out with people who tend to do healthier things, or in an environment where there are opportunities to eat healthier options? What's your schedule like – is it erratic due to work? Do you need child care? What are some of the ingrained habits in your personal relationships – is it easy to miss out on sleep because your significant other is a night owl and you tend to stay up as well?
Once you've identified some of the challenges, you can then identifying solutions. Perhaps it's keeping the fridge stocked with healthy snacks and making your lunch the night before to avoid the temptation to eat out. Perhaps it's finding a gym that offers child care, or exercising to a DVD at home. It could also mean having a conversation with your spouse about your plan and what you need to do. Having support from those around you can really make a difference and he or she may be able to help identify ways to overcome certain obstacles.
But, even if you've planned for certain obstacles, remember new ones may crop up.
Maintaining healthy habits is kind of like maintaining relationships. They're always changing and evolving, new obstacles you didn't expect occur and you have to navigate a new course along the way. There will always be rough spots. But with patience, kindness and persistence, you can do it.