Every New Year, you tell yourself that things are going to be different. This time you are going to muffle the inner voice that coos you into weaknesses, like skipping the gym, gobbling up that lonely-looking bagel at work, or having just one last drink at Happy Hour. Alas, the year's just barely begun and you hear that devilish inner voice roaring louder than ever.
According to a study by Muraven and Baumeister in the "Psychological Bulletin," willpower is a finite resource and draws from the same resource pool as self-regulation. That's to say, decisions you make throughout the day—big or small—gradually chip away at your self-control. By the end of the day, it's natural to find the couch much more mesmerizing than a set of dumbbells. That's why it can be extra difficult to stay focused.
Thankfully, the following five strategies can help you triage your resolution-making and redirect your focus on the things that matter most. Hark, your ideal physique will be realized yet!
Find the Right Workout Schedule
Does it feel needlessly stressful to squeeze in a workout at your current proposed timeslot?
If so, take a hard look at your schedule once more. Find that sweet spot to avoid time conflicts and potential disruptions. For example, if your current plan has you speeding to the gym right after work but you end up compromising due to "things that come up," this timeslot clearly is not ideal.
Instead, hone in on a time in the day when you can consistently have a moment of Zen and are left with no excuses to avoid exercise. Try early mornings before work, school, or any other obligations.
People who complete workouts in the morning tend to stay better committed to their workout program and goals. They're also ready to tackle the rest of the day with gusto.
Match Your Workout and Nutrition With Your Goals
Most people will agree that any exercise is better than no exercise. Ideally, though, you want a workout and nutrition program which drives you toward your goals.
For example, if your goal includes massive strength gains, the standard protocol first calls for a large stimulus to the muscles in question through a weight-training program with proper load progression.
Although there are many cardiovascular and recovery benefits to steady-state cardio, it should have a smaller emphasis in your program, since excessive cardio could shuttle caloric usage elsewhere instead of toward muscle growth.
Hire a Trainer
For people who firmly believe in "making their own selves," enlisting the help of a professional might seem like a cop-out. After all, they do cost a shiny penny.
However, this could be one of the best investments you could make for yourself, if funds allow. First and foremost, they help you set a realistic goal, which is crucial to keeping you motivated.
Far too often, people get carried away with a goal like, "I want to fit in my Speedo from college." Trainers will help you refine your goal to something much more sustainable. Afterward, they provide structure, and an exercise program tailored to your fitness level and personal schedule.
Perhaps more important, hiring a trainer turns into personal accountability. Because you pay for this expert's time, showing up to your sessions becomes an obligation, not an option. You gain an ally, someone who will help you stay on track and wishes to see you through to the end.
Simply put: It's a lot easier to stay consistent when you've got a coach or trainer checking up on you.
Remember to Reward Yourself
Work hard, get rewarded. You're hardwired to look for a positive payout that doesn't make you feel like a chump for embarking on this journey to an ideal body. Whether that payout be in the form of a tangible reward, like a delectable treat or a massage; or visible progress ("Wow, my arm is so big now that my shirt may just rip!"), you need to be ready to sing the praises of your accomplishments, no matter how big or small.
Not doing so could rob you of motivation. It's all about positive reinforcement to keep your eyes on the prize. Celebrate little victories by rewarding yourself in whatever way you think is reasonable and appropriate.
Were you able to add 10 more pounds to your deadlift this week? Eat an extra helping of your favorite protein and tell yourself: "Body, you're awesome!"
If All Else Fails, Re-Evaluate Your Goal
In the end, it all comes down to the parameters of the goal. Is it realistic or concrete enough? An ambitious goal like "I want to lose X number of pounds" offers far too little clarity on how to proceed. Think about a smaller-scale change like replacing a morning bagel with an omelet (or many other breakfast recipes found on Bodybuilding.com).
Here you are more likely to commit since this micro-change stands within the margins of what you already do. In this case, you already eat breakfast—so why not just eat something that works toward your goal?
I hope you can apply some, if not all, of these steps and avoid having to discount another fruitful year.
Few people can be 100 percent committed 100 percent of the time. Don't be too hard on yourself when you slip. Remember that a setback is only a setback if you let it completely throw you off your horse.
Have you made a health-focused New Year's promise to yourself? Share it in the comments below and talk about your plan to overcome it!
- Vohs KD et al. Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: a limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 May;94(5):883-98
- Muraven M, Baumeister RF. Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: does self-control resemble a muscle? Psychol Bull. 2000 Mar;126(2):247-59.