Having spent the last 28 years in the fitness industry, I am no stranger to the surge of life-changing determination that occurs with each New Year. And yet, even after all these years, I’m still no cynic about it, either.
Yes, it’s true that health clubs are packed full each January, and by March, most have cleared back down to normal levels. But each year, something magical happens for at least some of the people who set goals or resolutions having to do with healthy lifestyle change: They succeed.
What separates those who manage to achieve meaningful progress from those who lose momentum before they’ve recognized significant gains?
From what I can tell, these are the five factors that make the greatest difference:
1. A healthy-life vision. People who have a clear, positive image in their heads — not just about what they want to achieve but how they are going to achieve it — seem to enjoy a depth of commitment that those focused on more external results have trouble mustering. Do you have a mental picture of yourself at your healthiest and most fit firmly in mind? Can you imagine how your life might be different if you were living it in a healthier, more satisfying way? Spend some time developing that vision, then document it (check out these reader vision boards for some ideas of how to do that) so you always have a handy reminder of what you’re trying to achieve, and why.
2. Realistic goals. Individuals who set well-defined, achievable goals tend to make faster and more satisfying progress than those who do not. That’s because we must actually believe we can do something before success is possible. Whether the goal is weight loss, fitness gains, or general improvements in health and vitality, it works much better to commit to action-oriented goals that can be reliably achieved in the short term (say, working out three times a week) rather than to an outcome-oriented goal (such as losing 20 pounds) that’s going to take an undetermined amount of time and effort to achieve.
3. Willingness to change. Creating a healthy life requires a series of interconnected changes across many areas — from the way you shop, cook and eat, to the way you schedule your days and the people you choose to spend time with. Aligning your choices across all these touchpoints is essential if you want to maximize your chances of success. That said, you also need to make changes at a pace that is doable for you. Ask yourself: What steps am I willing to take in each part of my life to support healthy change? What’s holding me back, and where am I making choices that could be undermining my success? If I run into an obstacle, where will I turn for support? Deciding in advance that you are going to change your life, and that you are willing to face challenges and get help if you need it (see No. 5), gives you a huge, empowering advantage.
4. A good, personalized fitness plan. Nothing builds motivation like seeing and feeling noticeable fitness results. That’s why you need a good action plan — one that reflects your current level of capacity, available time and desired outcomes. Your fitness plan should also reflect your passions and interests. (For more on that, take the personality profile assessment at www.lifetimefitness.com/fip.) For help developing a good, comprehensive action plan, read “The Can-Do Fitness Plan” in the April 2009 archives.
5. Skills, knowledge and support: If you already knew everything you needed to know and had all the support you required to achieve your goals, you’d have achieved them by now. So don’t be shy about identifying and filling in your personal gaps, whether they involve nutritional know-how, training expertise, time-and-priority management, or the support of a health-motivated community.
The importance of this last point cannot be overstated. Ultimately, there is no greater influence on your behaviors and attitudes than the people with whom you surround yourself. Which is why getting involved with a positive, health-minded community that shares your interests is so essential to your success.
However you approach your goals, know this: Choosing to be as healthy and fit as you possibly can is one of the single most empowering choices available to you as an individual. So make that choice. Then make it happen. We’re here to help.