My experience as a personal trainer suggests that approximately eight out of ten of us will have failed to keep whatever New Year resolutions we may have made before the second week of February. In other words, despite starting the year hoping to get in better shape, the majority end up with bigger waistlines, and smaller muscles. That’s because losing weight is hard. There are no quick fixes, no cheat codes and certainly no magic pills out there that will genuinely transform your body. The good news is that I have helped thousands of people stay on track to achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Here are the common pitfalls, and the strategies to overcome them.
Pitfall One: The health goal is too vague
If your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, there is a high chance you will fail. You need to be more specific than that. Set a goal following the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time) principle. An example of this would be: To lose 30lbs of body fat by August 1st so that I can enjoy our summer holiday this year instead of dreading it.
I also recommend that you write the goal down. Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, at the Dominican University in California, led a study on goal setting with nearly 270 participants. The results? You are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.
Pitfall Two: There is no emotional connection to the goal
Men tell me that the reason they want to lose weight is because their wife/girlfriend/relative told them to. When things get hard, and they will, this won’t cut it. You need to have an emotional connection to the goal. That’s why, in addition to writing a SMART goal, I recommend that you do a vision statement. This is an easy task that is worth its weight in gold, especially on those cold, dark mornings when you don’t want to get up.
What does the ideal you look like? How does that version of you feel? What can the healthier version of you do that the overweight version can’t. One client of mine dreaded family summer holidays because his kids would get embarrassed every time he took his shirt off at the beach. So his vision statement centred around making his kids proud. This was a powerful tool for the days his sugar cravings were at their worst.
Pitfall Three: Health and fitness habits compete with work and family commitments
The moment your new fitness routine meets resistance from work and family commitments, it is doomed to fail. Too often I see Personal Trainers pushing their all consuming programmes on busy people, and that can lead to failure and frustration.
Work on the principle of the path of least resistance, namely getting the maximum output you want with minimum amount of time and effort required. Let me give you an example. One of my clients is a busy CEO with a wife and three kids. Time to exercise is therefore very limited. So, we designed a ‘circuit breaker’ training structure where he would work out for ten minutes, three times per day between meetings in his office using minimal equipment. As well as losing weight, this also helped to bring his stress levels down as it was giving him a pressure release throughout the day.
Consider other hacks as well. It’s difficult to consistently eat healthily if you have to come home after work and cook from scratch. So, I recommend doing a batch cook (taking on average 90 minutes) once per week. Try and find a gym that is close to your home or work. If you have to pass it on the way to or from work, it’s easier to stick to.
Pitfall Four: You hate working out
The question I get asked the most is: “What is the best workout to lose fat?” In my early days of being a personal trainer I would have said resistance training and prescribed you specific exercises with clear rep and set ranges. I would have been right from a scientific perspective.
But years and years of training thousands of clients has given me a different answer. The best type of exercise you can do to lose weight and maintain health is the one you enjoy doing. The one that you look forward to doing rather than dreading. This is what is sustainable when life comes at you fast with competing priorities. Whether you surf, ski, canoe, run, hike or bike, if you exercise consistently and eat well, you will lose body fat.
Guess what also happens when you do the exercise you love? You start to enjoy the gym work too, as you can see it improve your performance in the thing you love to do. Consistency is the biggest key to unlocking weight loss and lifelong health.
Many people will fail to live up to their New Year’s resolutions, but be encouraged, I have worked with thousands of people who’ve nailed it! These people follow the suggestions outlined above, so that when the weight loss journey gets hard (and it will) they push through rather than giving up.
Main photo credit: Jos Zwaan via Unsplash