2014 here we come. What’s your resolution?
The turn of the year is a fascinating time of great optimism, when everyone and their mother decides to toss their bad habits aside and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Gym memberships soar, goals are set, and the flood gates are opened as people begin their lives anew.
Or that’s what we think.
My own optimism is accompanied by a knowing sense of melancholy as I wait for the inevitable. A month into the new year, as our motivation wanes, we look out windows and see a world not so different from the year we had hoped to leave behind. New memberships are cancelled as we succumb to the possibility that we will never change, that our muffin tops are here to stay. We are destined for lives abundant not in joy but in ailment.
You might as well cancel your holiday plans. This is the beginning of the next worst year of your life. Why celebrate? Okay, so maybe there’s a more constructive conclusion we can draw from this.
The question we need to ask ourselves is this:
How can we harness the motivation that comes with 2014 and use it to form habits that will stick with us? How can we actually get into shape so that we live to make another few decades worth of resolutions?
Whatever we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Let’s take a look at two common culprits:
Sprinting out of the gates
After some oral surgery earlier this year, I was forced to forgo my running for a few days so that I didn’t, you know, bleed out. This bothered me, but when I hit the pavement I pretended I hadn’t skipped a beat and ran my usual six mile course. I did well. Go me!
The next day, I got to it again. Less than a mile in my ankle was throbbing; it was clear that I wouldn’t be going the full six miles absent the appearance of a rabid dog. I tried again the following afternoon to no avail. This trend continued for a few frustrating days as running a mile became a task of Herculean endurance.
Mentally, I was prepared to run six miles. Probably more. Physically, I was more prepared for two. I ran six, hurt my ankle, and was forced to forgo running for an even greater period than had I just eased back into things.
This is the mistake we often make at the beginning of the year: Our minds get doped up on dopamine and we pretend as though as can run a marathon without any preparation because, honest to God, we feel like we can.
Instead you’ll overwork yourself, pull something, and falsely come to the conclusion that running is the worst thing that has ever happened to you. Truth: Running is as enjoyable as the runner is realistic. There’s a difference between pain and discomfort. When you experience the former, change something.
This year: Don’t run an ultra-marathon on day one. Start with a mile, three times per week. Run as much of it as you can, and walk the rest. Push yourself for that one mile. When that becomes less of a challenge, increase your speed or distance (or both) until the challenge returns.
By taking things more slowly, and allowing your body to adjust to new activity levels, you might find that running is something worth raving about.
Obsessing over Numbers
We live in a world of the ubiquitous tracking app. On iOS, there are hundred of apps that promise to get me into better shape: They can track my pace, my distance, the amount of calories I burn, the amount I consume, the number of steps I take, my heart rate, and even the way my foot hits the ground. All the while the NSA is storing this information in a database somewhere.
Just as the Internet’s abundance of knowledge hasn’t made everyone’s IQ shoot up fifty points, the availability of low cost tracking applications doesn’t translate into a healthier society. The problem is that they often become more of a distraction than a tool for success.
For example: If you’ve been eating a poor diet for years, you shouldn’t download a calorie counting app so that you can track your calories down to the third decimal point. It would be like trying to give a detailed report on the subatomic architecture of plants without knowing the first thing about botany. You’re skipping the essential basics in favor of the less important specifics.
Save yourself a couple of bucks and do this instead: Strive for a diet plentiful in fruits, vegetables, fist-sized portions of lean meats and poultry, and healthy fats from nuts and oils. If you create a diet that looks like this you will lose weight, at a healthy rate, and without having to count a single calorie.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
The 2013 Fitness Word of the Year is: Complication. This year, we spent money on applications that wasted our time, hurt our eyes, and impeded us from establishing new, healthy habits. All the while we could have simply eaten more fruits and veggies, and less junk food.
We also got a little cocky at the beginning of the year. We thought we could do it all, that we could change overnight, and so we burned ourselves out before really getting started. Instead, we could have worked a little less, but over a longer duration. That would have made a huge difference.
In 2014, resist the urge to make getting into shape a complicated effort. Eat healthier foods, control your portions, and exercise more frequently. Maybe then we can all make a different resolution in 2015.
Steven is the founder of Runners Ravings, who has a love of fitness, reading, politics, family, friends, and an awkward mix of mainstream and classical music. You can follow him on Twitter @steven_chaffin.