New year, new you, who dis?

Every December as the end of the old year approaches and the new year is about to begin, there’s a huge focus on resolutions.

They range from the simple – I will be a kinder person and volunteer more – to the complex – I will change a negative behaviour like quitting smoking/drinking or take on a positive behaviour like eating better or exercising more.

The reality is that by the end of January, many of those good intentions fall by the wayside. Sometimes it is from your own doing: maybe you didn’t plan, maybe your resolution was too big, or perhaps you lost your momentum.

Sometimes it comes from others: they aren’t supportive or they don’t believe in you. I’m looking at you long-time gym members who make snide comments about the January newbies.

However, my main problem is that resolutions often feel rooted in believing there is something wrong with you. I recently came across a New Yorker cartoon with a fluffy cat admiring itself in a mirror saying to its reflection: “New Year’s resolution – stay this good-looking.” 

I like that approach of assuming you are already a good human and you want to find ways of maintaining your goodness.  And really, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve – the Japanese have a great approach called kaizen that focuses on improvement by making good things better, applying efficiency, removing waste, and implementing standardization.

Sometimes it feels like changing stuff at work is easier than changing ourselves. However we can change our mindset about how we want to approach making changes in our lives when it comes to activity. Some of us will schedule the time in our calendar and protecting that time so other priorities don’t take it over. In fact, I wrote about using that approach to make fitness a priority in my schedule here back in December 2019.

That worked well for me, but I wanted to do more. How to make physical activity stick and incorporate it as a daily thing and not just a workout in the gym thing? Well, a year later I took on BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits approach to attach activity to an already established habit. I wrote about Fogg’s key principles here.

For example, I need to strengthen my leg muscles to manage my grumpy knee. How to remember to do that every morning? I “attached” a specific exercise to my morning toothbrushing. I always brush my teeth and by associating the step exercise with that habit, I remember to do it.

Practice makes perfect my teachers said. I remember a pottery teacher telling us we had to make a 100 of anything before we could master a form. It’s true that my tenth plate was better than my first, and my 100th was stellar compared to the tenth, fiftieth or even ninetieth.

The same with fitness. The Running Room’s learn to run program, for example, works on the increasing running time and decreasing walking time. When I first started powerlifting, I didn’t rush to the rack and start flinging weights around.

In fact, I didn’t even start with weights but practiced a series of exercises with repetitions that built strength before I even looked at plates. As it was, my first squats and deadlifts weren’t great, but over time, I increased the amount of weight I could squat or lift and my form steadily improved.

I wrote about the impact of small changes contributing to gains here. Looking back on all these posts, I can see that in the last four years, I have not just maintained a fitness practice, I have started thinking strategically about what I do, how I do it, when I do it, and why. The practice of fitness is not just about acquiring skill and competence (something that is critical to injury prevention) it’s about cultivating the habit of discipline.

If you are embarking on a fitness journey as part of making changes in this new year, tbink about building in and valuing the small steps you make to be an even nicer version of yourself.

Here are some of the things I have learned in the ten years since I first decided I needed to make changes in my life.

  1. Be realistic about the goals you want to achieve. Not sure what’s feasible? Talk to a trainer or expert in the activity you want to take on. I like yoga, but I know there are some moves I need to do differently and consistently before I can try others. Not being realistic about how bendy I am would have let me at risk for injury.
  2. Become a creature of habit when it comes to making space for fitness every day. Pick a spot for your gear (really, do this) so you can find and get ready without fuss or panic.
  3. Keep an eye on your attitude. Avoid procrastinating. Like the ad says, just do it. If you don’t want to go for your hour long walk, then go for 30 minutes. Go even just for five minutes.
  4. Be positive. A friend tells herself the following every time she goes for a run: I am. I can. I will. I do. Erase negative self talk and replace it with something that fosters confidence in yourself. And if you can’t do that, remember there’s a little potato that believes in you.  
  5. Celebrate your successes, even the tiny ones. Stuff happens. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Give yourself a high five for making it through. Only got five workouts instead of the seven – yay you! That’s five more than doing none for the week. Reach an important target? Reward yourself. Because you are freaking awesome!

Happy New year everyone!

— MarthaFitat55 is embracing all the challenges and exploring all the ideas.

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