Every year, I dread January 1st. I enjoy the lull of the slow traffic at my home gym throughout the end of November and December, when even routine gym-goers more often choose their nice warm beds and couches over braving the elements to pump some iron. Even I find myself unmotivated during the winter months, especially with finals, traveling, and extra stress, not to mention the viruses that seem to strike most often in these months, knocking me out of my routine for anywhere from a few days to two weeks. But as soon as I’m feeling better, you know I will be back to the gym before it becomes infested by the worst vermin— New Years Resolutioners.
It comes as no surprise that some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions reported are to improve fitness (48% of respondents), lose weight (34%), and improve diet (32%). This is strongly connected with the post-holiday feelings of insecurity around weight and body shape, which are often exacerbated by comments from family members (like your aunt who won’t stop raving about her experience going Keto or intermittent fasting). Even if this is not the motivation behind getting in shape, there is often pressure to “reinvent” oneself when the calendar changes, as if there is something magical about the transition from December 31st to January 1st that allows one to completely alter their behaviors and internal drive center.
Thus, as not only an avid gym-goer but also a longtime gym employee, I know every year that there will be an influx of new members. Roughly 12% of all gym sign-ups happen in January, when everyone’s motivation, and body insecurity, are high. Every time I hear at least someone unironically say the slogan, “New Year, New Me,” as they arrive in their new running shoes, I have to resist rolling my eyes.
My only solace is knowing that this influx will not last long. By March, about half of the resolutioner crowd is gone; by the summer, all but the few have disappeared. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 46% of resolutioners are still committed to their goal six months in. And these are the people who made a plan from the get-go— of those who try to make a change without setting a resolution, only 1 in 25 keep it up.
It may sound like I am cynical about people trying to make positive changes for their health. On the contrary, I am incredibly supportive when a friend tells me that they want to start going to the gym, or switch up their diet, or work on the other elements of health (which encompasses so much more than diet and exercise, such as social and emotional wellbeing) which I argue are even more important than the surface level changes. Health is not just a shrinking number on a scale or a smaller waistline. It is about feeling better, inside and out. It is also incredibly subjective — everyone’s “healthy” is unique to them. This is why when I hear that someone has made the lofty resolution to “get healthy” — whatever that means — I cringe a little.
My love for fitness started over five years ago, and even though I have consistently gone to the gym and taken care of my health for years, I still would not say I have not reached my endpoint. Whenever I do reach a goal I’ve set or set a new personal record, I start shooting for the next target. But the thing about making long-lasting changes is that they need to be something that one can reasonably maintain for the rest of one’s life.
This is why I don’t want you to resolve to “get healthy.” Instead, consider these tips for your New Year intentions:
- First, ask yourself: what exactly does “healthy” mean to you? Define it. Determine what a “healthy” you looks like, feels like, and acts like.
- Next, consider the daily practices that this new version of you does. For example, this person drinks a glass of water every morning before having coffee; they eat three full, well-balanced meals a day; they exercise for 30 minutes, four times per week. They make a goal of hitting at least 7 hours of sleep per night and being off their phone for the first and last 20 minutes of the day. Think of these as building new non-negotiable habits. Don’t make them too grand and unattainable.
- Ask yourself: are you ready to change? You may be saying “duh,” but often we mistake external pressure for inner motivation. If you are hesitant to change, you won’t be able to move forward, as readiness to change and self-efficacy are the two top predictors of success in achieving resolutions.
- I am sure you have heard this before, but the key to achievement is setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive) goals. I recommend keeping it simple and choosing 3-4 to focus on, rather than overloading yourself with a dozen. You are more likely to be consistent if you focus your energy on a few tweaks.
- Learn to love the process. If you hate the gym (How dare you! Just kidding) then going five times per week is going to get old pretty quickly. If you want to get active, then find a form that you enjoy; if you want to eat healthier, then look for recipes to make your favorite dishes at home. You can also bring your friends and family in if they have similar goals. You can hold each other accountable while also fostering connection. It can help to have someone supporting you, as making changes can be uncomfortable.
- Lastly, remember that change takes time. As with everything, the best things are a slow, gradual process. You may not notice changes right away, but if you keep up with your daily habits and continue trusting the process, it will lead to success.
While I still roll my eyes at the concept of the “New Year, New Me,” I do appreciate that more people are motivated to make a change for the better as we enter January. If you are making a resolution this year, whether fitness-related or otherwise, I hope you are one of the 46% who keep it up for six months and beyond. And if I do see you at the gym, don’t be shy. We are all working on ourselves together, leveling up one day at a time.
Senior Lily Vining is an Investigative Reporter. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.