It’s that time of year again! The good cheer, love and warm feelings of Christmas are morphing into the New Year’s Eve festivities. Of course, those are immediately followed by an “oh crap” moment for many people.
They suddenly realize the new year is upon them and, if they do nothing different than last year, it will be a carbon copy. If the year gone by was, at best, less than successful and, at worst, an absolute poop-show, that won’t do at all, will it?
Too many wake up on New Year’s Day morning (or at 2 in the afternoon – THAT was some night, huh?) with no plan for the coming year and little to show but regret and dissatisfaction for the year past.
Without sounding too much like your mom, don’t let this happen to you! It doesn’t take military grade planning and execution to change the trajectory of the coming year with regard to your health and fitness. It just takes a little understanding, some planning and a willingness to be the person who can do it.
First, understand yourself. If you’re the kind of person who likes to reward themselves for a job well done, when you see something through or even just when things go your way, accept that about you. It’s not wrong or bad, it’s just how you’re wired. Rather than fight the desire for reward, use it to your advantage by changing what you reward yourself with.
If you might normally sit down to a few cocktails and a rich meal as a reward for good work or a good result, try using a different reward. Get a massage, go to a movie or buy yourself some new clothes (after all, if this goes well, you’ll need to anyway!)
Don’t fight who you are, change how you reward yourself by switching up the reward!
Second, you’ll have to plan if you want to succeed. Life will always throw curve balls at you and if you’re not ready, any one of them can derail your progress and block you from the success you want. We’ll talk more about planning shortly, but for now, know that you’ll need macro, or large scale plans and micro, or small scale plans.
Macro plans are reflective of goals we set. For example, you may set the goal of losing 10 pounds or one pants or dress size by a certain date. Your plan for this is to change your eating habits and get more exercise. This is a macro plan. Micro plans are the details that make the macro plan work.
For example, changing your eating habits may mean keeping healthier snack foods in the house. Micro plan. That would mean making sure they are on the shopping list, make their way into the shopping cart and then home and get prepared, as needed, for convenience eating. Micro, micro and micro.
There’s an old saying that “if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” With regard to changing habits around health and fitness, it’s very true. When you’re not working a plan in this area, it’s easy to fall into, or back into, some poor habits.
Third, you’ll need to be the person who can do the things that lead to success. It would be easy to brush this idea off and say “of course I’ll be that person! This time I HAVE to.”
No, you don’t. You don’t have to. You can easily live the rest of your life the way you’ve lived it until now. With no real understanding of what drives you toward success in health and fitness, no real goals that matter and no plan to get there. If you’ve never been that person before, how do you expect to just become that person now?
This might take some persuasion. You may well need to remind yourself frequently that you are that person who can do the things that fulfill your plan and lead to success. Be positive about how you remind yourself and be specific. “I am the person who eats a healthy, nutritious breakfast each day” is far more effective than “I have to eat breakfast” or “if I don’t eat breakfast I’ll fail.” Let your persuasion and self-talk should be habit-based, action-oriented and positive.
I’ll be writing and sharing more about this concept at another time. For now, just start with little things like reassuring yourself that you are the person who adopts healthy exercise or eating habits. It really does work.
Understanding (yourself.) Planning (macro and micro.) Being the person who does the stuff that leads to success. Simple formula, right? Sort of. It can get tricky. Especially at this time of year when the pressure seems to be on to have a better next year than the past year.
Kind of assumes the past year was terrible, doesn’t it? Yet, here you are, still kicking and able to think about what’s next. So instead of focusing on what’s wrong, let’s try focusing on what could be right, or at least better.
I’m offering these 11 “game changers” for creating your path to health and fitness success in the coming year. Let’s get started.
1. Indulge a little before the new year begins – Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But I’m not talking about eating every Christmas cookie in sight, swilling all the champagne or adult beverages or licking every last morsel of stuffing out of the bowl. What I’d love for you to do is enjoy some indulgences and be really present to how delicious, fulfilling and enjoyable each one is.
All too often, we indulge without a thought about what we’re eating or drinking or the circumstances in which we do it. If you enjoy a cocktail with friends, have one or two. But really pay attention to what it is about the experience that makes you happy. I bet it has more to do with being around people you like and enjoy at least as much (if not more) than the cocktails themselves.
When you enjoy that rich holiday meal, pay attention to what it is that really makes it taste so good and seem so desirable. Those are the things to focus on, not the eating part so much as the enjoying part.
This is the season when we tend to think about all that we are grateful for and how much we appreciate the people and blessing in our lives. That’s really what the indulgence is all about. So don’t stress about enjoying something indulgent during the last few days of this holiday season and year. Just be present to it so you can enjoy all that it holds for you.
2. Think about your health and fitness goals and write them down – Don’t be shy about this. Feel free to think big. There’s nothing wrong with telling yourself you want to lose 50 pounds in a year or you want to win a 5K race by year’s end, even if you have no idea how to plan and execute on those goals. Think big, dream big, goal big.
The next step in this is to break those goals down into habits. If you want to lose weight, what are the habits you’ll need to establish to do that? Will you have to start exercising? Change your eating habits? The answer to both is probably yes.
Maybe you already exercise. It may be that you need to change things up some in order to get a different result. If you have no exercise habits now, where should you start? The most important thing is to start. Write down a daily fitness goal for one week. Make it something simple like “walk 30 minutes” or “ lift weights for 30 minutes.”
We’ll dig in on planning in a bit, but for now, just start writing down some “end game goals” (lose 50 lbs, win a 5K, etc.) Then, write down some habit goals or “process goals.” These are the things that will start and keep you on the path to the end game goals.
Here’s an easy first week of process goals that support end game goals of weight loss:
– Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day
– Drink at least 8 – 8 ounce glasses of water each day
– Eat breakfast, including 20-30 grams of protein (eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, etc.) each morning
– Walk for 30 minutes on 5 days
– Lift weights or take a strength-based class at the gym for 30 minutes on 3 days
– Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
If you’re not doing any of these right now, they may seem huge. But get one week of them under your belt and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without doing these things!
3. Make a list of habits you have that don’t serve you or your goals – This goes along with the idea of process goals. Think about how you manage your fitness, nutrition and health habits right now. Which of the things you do regularly serve your goals for the upcoming year?
Questions to ask yourself:
– Do you get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night?
– How much water do you actually drink in a day?
– How much time do you spend watching TV, on your phone or on a screen?
– Do you stress over things you can’t control?
– Do you eat at your desk, while driving or at other times that might lead to distracted overeating?
– How often do you drink alcohol?
– What non-essential activities prevent you from dedicating time to exercise and fitness?
Honest answers to these and other questions about current habits and lifestyle will lead to real opportunities to jettison the habits that are counterproductive and hurt your chances of fulfilling your health and fitness goals in the new year.
4. Go all in on one small habit change at a time – People often think creating a health and fitness lifestyle is about making massive, wholesale changes like emptying your pantry, pouring out all your alcohol and “firing” the friends who aren’t fitness fanatics. But those kind of eccentric, emotionally charged changes rarely stick, so they rarely work.
Try going “all in” on one small habit change at a time. An easy one to start with? Drinking more water each day! Start with a goal of 8 or 10 eight ounce glasses each day. Start the day with 1 or 2 glasses. I’m willing to bet you nail this one right out of the gate.
Another good one to start with? 30 minutes of walking, 3-4 times a week. You know that 30 minutes in the morning when you read the paper and drink coffee? Put your coffee in a to-go cup, grab your headphones and listen to a podcast while you walk (you could try my podcast, the Four Pillar Fitness podcast, but there’s lots of other good ones out there, too) and get that 30 minutes in.
Maybe your 30 minutes is better done when you get home from work (maybe that’s when you’d normally pour an adult beverage – talk about a positive trade-off!) Throw your sneaker on and head out the door for 30 minutes (or on to the treadmill if you absolutely must.)
A full, “all in” commitment to one small habit change almost always has a magical effect – it leads to others and the cycle of nailing them gets shorter and smoother each time. Before you know it, those goals – macro and micro – are falling like bowling pins!
5. Find an accountability partner – Team up with someone. The best way to do it is to find someone with similar goals and who is positive. Encourage each other.
It’s also important to always be honest with each other, even when it’s difficult. Often, we don’t want to hurt our accountability partner’s feelings, so we give them a pass on things we know they’ve said are important and that will lead to success. Call each other out on things, be honest, but remain positive and encouraging. Be the kind of partner that helps the other stay focused, with “eyes on the prize!”
6. Find some fun stuff that’s good for your fitness – It’s okay to grind, to put in the tough workouts. But try to find some fun stuff that supports your goals. Play some dodgeball. Go for a hike. Play beach volleyball or even some golf. Go dancing. All of these are fun physical activities that fit a healthy, fitness-oriented lifestyle.
Try out some new classes at your gym or get into a boot-camp or group fitness studio. Get challenged in some new ways. Fun and fitness should be as much a part of the recipe as grind and discipline!
7.Block out time – This is the big challenge for most people who don’t already have a fitness lifestyle. Take a hard look at your day. Pretend you’re evaluating someone else’s day to find the wasted time. Then carve it out and see where you can shake up your day. If you can find 30 minutes of wasted or dead time during the day (I guarantee you can,) you’ve got a block of time for fitness and exercise! Look for 60 minutes – they’re there!
8. Make a plan – I’m not going to beat this one up too much. We talked about goals and we talked about time. The key to a good plan is to include all the elements. You need to plan out when you’ll work out. Whether it’s walking, running or biking or lifting weights, put it in your daily plan and in whatever you use to schedule your day. Then keep it like an appointment with the boss – because it is, boss!
Also plan time to sit down and make meal plans. Here’s a quick tip. When planning meals, use big enough recipes so that tonight’s dinner can be tomorrow’s lunch. Then portion it after cooking and you’re good to go, with a lot less chance of tomorrow’s lunch going sideways into junk food land!
When the meal plan is done, make your shopping list. Be minimalist and ruthless. Then stick to it! Set aside time for meal preparation. For me, that’s a Sunday where my wife and I prep the meals for at least 3-4 days ahead, with a plan to get the last 3 or so days done on Wednesday or Thursday.
Remember this adage, if it helps: “piss poor planning perpetuates piss poor performance.” A little crude, but easy to remember, no?
9. Take a challenge – Maybe you’re the kind of person who needs a challenge to stay interested. You could always get into a Transformation Challenge at a fitness studio or health club. Here’s a few other challenges to try.
– The No Sugar Challenge – This is simple, but a little like breaking a drug habit. Avoid any food with added or excessive sugar for one month. That means reading food labels for anything that resembles sugar in the ingredient list. The good news is you can still eat fruits, since there’s no added or excess sugars there (I know, we can argue about which fruits are “high” in sugar later.) You can also have natural cheeses and even tequila, if you like an adult beverage now and again.
– A Daily Plank Challenge – Try doing a total of 5 minutes holding a plank, every day, for a month. You can do one 5 minute plank, 5 one minute planks or 10 30 second planks. Just get the 5 minutes in every day for a month.
– Total Steps Challenge – If you have a smart phone, you have an easy way to count your daily steps. A FitBit will help as well, as will any other fitness tracker. Track your steps daily. Aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. That’s twice the number that physicians say beats the “sedentary” tag. It’s tougher than you might think, but gets easier the more often you do it. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, after all. At least, that’s what the physicists tell us. You can set your goal number higher if you want, by the way. Make it as tough as you like.
If you think of a challenge that will make it tough and fun, go for it! Just remember, safety first. You’re not crushing any goals on crutches or in a hospital bed!
10. Celebrate success – I’m a huge proponent of celebrating your successes! Earlier I talked about the idea of rewarding yourself for a job well done. This should be true of fitness and health accomplishments as well. If you have an accountability partner, that’s a good place to start.
If you journal your journey (sorry about that,) definitely write down your accomplishments, along with how they make you feel. The tactile sensation of writing reinforces the emotion attached to the victory. That hard wires the brain for more accomplishment!
Use small rewards and celebrations for small achievements and bigger ones for the big achievements. Drop 10 pounds this month? How about a spa day or a night out on the town? Hit a personal best in the gym? Get some high fives and maybe a nice lunch out somewhere. New clothes, a few days away, a massage, whatever gets you excited and keeps you on track with your fitness and health lifestyle.
11. Keep a journal – I know you’ve heard this one before, probably right here. But journalling allows you to mind dump when you need to and to express your feelings about victories and failures in a safe space and in a way that you can go back and refer to when things repeat themselves. The physical sensation of writing about what you’re thinking and feeling allows you to fully process all of it.
Try writing down the following once a day:
– 5 things you’re grateful for
– 5 things that went great that day
– 5 people you think are amazing (and why)
– 5 things you might have done better
– 5 things you love about yourself
This is a powerful exercise that helps you see the world more clearly and understand yourself better. Journalling seems a little “out there” to many. It did to me, too. But the more I do it, the more I like it and want it in my life. Try it and I think you will, too.
If these “game changers” don’t seem too earth-shattering, it’s because they’re not. The things that make the biggest difference between success and failure are often some of the most mundane, everyday things. However, it’s in the application where the magic happens.
I guarantee that if you really apply most or all of these ideas to your health and fitness goals in the coming year, and get serious about them, they will make a huge difference for you. I wish you all the best in the coming year. Have a happy, healthy and wonderful new year filled with awesome success on your health and fitness journey!
Keep the faith and keep after it!