How to keep New Year’s resolutions using sport psychology (and without all the boring articles)
It is the new year, and you know what that means: it is time to get the sudden urge to become super mega fit. Whether you are wanting to lose some of the turkey weight you gained over the holiday, you just want to get strong enough to lift your enemies, or, if you’re like me, you just want to stop feeling winded when you go up the four flights of stairs in classroom building, January is the perfect time for a fresh start. You’re not alone with this sudden urge to change your lifestyle. This year, you have decided you will not fail like all the other years, but why do resolutions feel impossible to keep? Using sport psychology, I will explain the best methods for easing into a new lifestyle, finding what works best for you, and keeping you motivated.
If you’re feeling full of spit and vinegar at the start of the new year, you may feel like you want to do it all at once. All your friends are telling you to do HIIT workouts five days a week. You feel like you need to cut out all bread and pasta for a month. By the end of week two, this will not feel sustainable anymore. What do we do then? Weinberg & Gould presents in their article “Exercise Behavior and Adherence” from Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology (fourth edition) that exercise adherence is more successful when the person eases into the workout regimen. If a person has been sedentary for the whole pandemic, they will be more successful doing light cardio, making small diet changes, and going for walks. This prevents the body and mind from burning out, which results in you being able to keep your resolutions longer.
It is very easy for the individual to engage in the “all or nothing” mindset. Weinberg and Gould explain that this is demonstrated in the form of a person feeling like they have failed if they miss one day of working out. A person may also cut out all foods they enjoy right away. This all or nothing mindset results in failure because the individual is more likely to give up if they eat the food they “weren’t supposed to,” or they go all out on a cheat day and toss the whole plan away.
Another way this is presented is if a person misses a workout or eats food that they deem as bad (like a slice of cake) first thing in the morning. They see this as a failure, and then feel that they have lost all progress because of one isolated event. Just continue to do your exercises and eat your favourite foods in moderation, and it will all balance in the end. It is better to have a gray mindset: “I will try not to drink soda as often, but once a week and maybe a bit more is okay for now,” or “I don’t feel well enough to workout. I will do yoga instead.”
Now you must be asking yourself, “but what diet or workout is the best one for me?” With all the contradicting opinions online (are eggs good or bad now?), it could be hard to figure out what is the best diet or workout for you. The answer is simple: the best diet/workout routine is the one that makes you happy and the one that is sustainable. Calorie counting may seem appealing to some, but having to put a numerical value to food everyday may not be ideal for your mental health while it may be fine for others. You may love bread a lot, so as soon as someone says “keto” it is time to walk away. If you can still eat the foods you love (with moderation) and feel physically great, then you are doing exactly what you should be.
The best workout for you is the same principle as above: the workout you enjoy and the workout you can be consistent with is a good routine for you, according to research found in the chapter “motivation and behavioral change” from Sport and Exercise Psychology (third edition),edited by Peter R. E Crocker. As a teen I tried for years to like HIIT, and would be shocked that I could not make it to the fourth workout in my plan; this was because I hate HIIT workouts. If you don’t like what you are doing, then you aren’t going to do it. Lots of different dance, muscle training, cardio, and other types of workouts can be found online, or at the gym. For both eating and working out, sport psychologists suggest doing what you enjoy and giving yourself variety.
Motivation is best when it comes from within. Research in “motivation and behavioral change” from Sport and Exercise Psychology explains that there are a few levels of motivation, ranging from non-self-determined (outside sources of motivation) to self-determined (internal motivation). Non-self-determined examples sound like “I feel guilty when I don’t work out,” or “I feel guilty if I eat this food item.” Guilt does not help us reach our goals. Another example would be: “I have to work out because my trainer said I had to.” It may work in the moment, but long term this does not keep a person motivated. The best sense of motivation comes from understanding the benefits of your workout or eating, identifying with what you are doing, and because you enjoy it. For example, I have a running friend who, if I were to ask her, would say, “I run because it is fun, it is good for my health, and I am a runner.”
Keeping New Year’s resolutions is hard because we all want to go full power into our new routine. Diet ads saying “lose 10 pounds in a week” and “workout and don’t eat any fun foods ever” are plastered on magazines, YouTube ads, and TV.
Don’t look at their ads. Look at yourself, and find some manageable goals that you can really enjoy. It does not have to be just one thing either; you may try running and find you hate it, but then discover the joys of lifting weights like I did. Go forth and find what you love, and happy new year!