It’s that time of year again: Time for the New Year's Resolutions crowd at your local gym!
I’ve worked at multiple gyms in my life, and something we always planned around at each place was the huge influx of people we would inevitably see in our fitness centers come the month of January. I’ve personally witnessed the number of people in weight rooms, on treadmills, climbing stair-steppers, and enrolling in classes double and sometimes triple in comparison to the months leading into the new year.
What was interesting about this phenomenon wasn't ncessarily the timing of when it began, but rather, how it almost always followed the same schedule settling back down. Like clockwork, we would see at least ⅓ of new gym-goers drop out within the first two weeks. Then, another ⅓ by the end of the month. The remaining third of new people would typically fade out over the course of February, and we wouldn’t see spikes again until right before swimsuit season. In fact, if you've been going to your local gym for a while now, you're probably seeing your numbers beginning to return to normal already.
I, along with many of the people I know, have a lot in common with members of the January surge of new gym-goers who end up fizzling out. I personally struggle a lot with consistency across multiple areas of my life. It’s something that I began struggling with as soon as I left high school athletics and made the leap to living on my own in college. (And it's been my nemesis ever since!) However, the discipline to stay consistent is something I continue to work on because I see as supremely important for leaders to master. As Jean and I finish our upcoming book, I've decided to refocus my energy on establishing more consistency with healthy habits throughout my life. It's something that I not only owe to her as my co-author and business partner but also something that I owe to myself. It's in this vein that I began thinking about how many people recently committed to creating some new habits and might be feeling like I am.
Now, don't get me wrong- I don't hate the idea of New Year's Resolutions. I enjoy the hope and motivation of the experience and the togetherness you can feel with other people making pledges at the same time you are, not to mention the accountability of having a "resolution buddy." However, I think that the execution of a resolution itself can get in the way of creating a long-term consistent practice.
"But Matt! How is it that setting a goal for the year–especially a goal to make some sort of improvement–could actually set us up for failure?" For one, thank you for asking, and two: it encourages waiting to make a change until “the right moment.” For example, if I know in early December that I want to make some changes in the upcoming year, why should I wait until January 1st to start?
I think that for many of us, the reason is pretty understandable: it’s so that we can totally indulge in whatever the unhealthy is to “get it out of our system” in the meantime. For instance, if you realize that you are consuming too much sugar on December 3rd, it can be easy to say, “Well, December is a really tough month to start eating healthier. So, I’ll get through the usual holiday parties, family gatherings, and various seasonal sweet drinks & treats, and then I’ll start in January when the temptation will be lower.” And what happens in the interim? You absolutely soak up all of the sweet treats you can, because you know that come January 1, it’s going to be Bland City, baby! So we yo-yo ourselves into an even bigger extreme than we would have been, had we just stopped in that December 1st moment to say, “I’m just going to start eating better right now.”
In life, the most sustainable choices we make are ones that we implement on our own terms as soon as we’re able.
Additionally, I know a lot of people who commit to a specific metric rather than an underlying outcome. This is especially true when it comes to things like losing weight or giving up certain foods/drinks/substances. For example, I have had several friends over the years say, “This year, I’m going to drop 15 pounds!” (okay, it's me. I'm the friend who has said that) Well, the goal sounds good, but have you asked yourself what’s the reason you want to drop the weight? Is it to have your clothes fit differently? Is it because you want to feel better? Is it because you want to shift your body fat percentage? Each of these reasons could call for very different approaches, and not all may result in your overall weight dropping by 15 pounds. In fact, I know several people who transformed their bodies by working out, and while they love their shape and strength, they actually increased their body weight by replacing what had been fat with muscle. It’s really important that you know the true goal you’re working toward so that you can be more intentional with your choices in pursuing it and won’t be thrown for a loop as soon as the numbers aren’t changing as quickly as you might like–even if you were making major improvements.
Lastly, a lot of us will make rigid plans- “I’m going to the gym 5 days a week!” That’s great, but what happens when you’re on the road for 2 weeks straight and the hotels you are staying at don’t have a gym? (Not that this example is specific to me at all...) Do you just give up, or do you stay flexible in accomplishing your goals? This goes back to knowing the ultimate reason for your resolution in the first place. If your goal is to be more active, maybe you can still go for a walk around the hotel or up & down the stairs. Perhaps you can do some push-ups or sit-ups in your room. If they have a pool, perhaps you can swim some laps. If you’re hoping to improve your body fat percentage but can’t work out, it could be a great time to be really intentional with your diet. And nearly all of us can always benefit from getting better sleep, which always supports improved health. So working on your sleep hygiene might be the best path forward, not trying to navigate to a new number on the scale. Rigidity to the path rather than the goal can get in our way big time when we want to stay consistent. Know your goal and continue finding ways to bring it to life wherever you can, however you can.
Consistency is not repetition or perfection. It’s about doing your best as often as you can.
The same is true for us at work. You will never be a perfect leader. We are all humans who will make mistakes, need help, and need resets. As long as you continue to work on yourself as soon and as often as you can, get clear your motivations, and stay flexible in the pursuit of those things, you will have a much higher likelihood of creating sustained change in the coming months and years. Good luck and keep growing, friends!