New Year's Resolutions

[aka, The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions]

December is often known as the month of excess.  Excess eating.  Excess drinking.  Excess partying.  And, of course, excess spending.  It's also the time when we reflect on our past year's experiences: Did we make enough money?  Get that promotion? Strengthen a flagging relationship? Travel somewhere new?  Read enough books?  Reach our goal weight?

That last one tends to stick with us, especially as we pack on those extra holiday pounds.  Enter the fabled American tradition of the "New Year's Resolution".
When we toss our 2013 calendar in the recycling bin [you do recycle, right?  ] and pin up that beautiful new Sierra Club (or Puppies, or Beefcake Firefighters) 2014 one, we see a gloriously blank slate just ready to accept all of our hopes and dreams.  This year WILL be different.  And, the most common thing most of us wish to change about ourselves is our body.  We want to look better, feel better, have more energy, and - perhaps most importantly - increase our self-confidence.

Well, while millions upons millions will declare that noble intention, only a fraction will see it through.  Do you want to be one of the few?  Then listen up.

Patience: Not Just a Virtue, but a Necessity

It took time to get to where you are; so, it will take time to get back to where you want to be

Ever go on a huge eating and drinking binge and wake up the next day 25 or 50 pound heavier?  No, you haven't, because weight gain is a gradual thing.

First and foremost: BE PATIENT!

Patience takes on a few forms here.  For starters, remember that no one will reach their goals in a day, or a week, or even a month.  In fact, your true goal should not be something you "reach" and then call it good; it should be a state of existence where the lifestyle you've adopted maintains it. [More on other factors in that success to come in future articles.]

Patience also involves what you choose to do.  When you go to the gym today, think about wanting to come back tomorrow.  In other words, if you hit the tear up the treadmill, bang around the free weights and rip it up on the machines, you'll leave with a wonderful sense of accomplishment.  But . . . when you wake up tomorrow, you might be too sore to brush your teeth.  Think you'll want to come to the gym?

Patience therefore calls for building up slowly.  Push yourself, yes, but not to the breaking point.  "Too-Much-Too-Soon Syndrome" claims more well-intentioned fitness seekers than just about any other mistake.  If you go hard today, take it a bit easy tomorrow.  And, yes, you may follow the old adage of "listening to your body", but not if it's telling you to sit on the couch eating snack food all day.  When striving to get - and stay - fit, it's time for your body to listen to you!

Somewhere Between Right Now & Forever

Give it a month [trust me]

Many efforts at self-improvement either look at the very long-term, or just think about the moment.  In some cases, either of these views may have its merits, but when it comes to substituting good habits for bad ones, it is important to define a transitional period.  Since I became a dedicated exerciser/fitness aficionado in 2006, countless people who've strayed from active, healthy lifestyles have asked me how to "get back into it".  After some thoughtful trial-and-error, I've settled on a simple, manageable approach: "Give it a month".

"Give it a month" means that you are going to incorporate some form of physical activity every day for one month.  No excuses.  No rationalizations.  No bargaining with yourself to do tomorrow what you've already promised you would do today.

For some people, this could mean running at least one mile per day.  For others, it might be going to the gym.  You may want to walk with a friend with whom you've been meaning to catch up.  It can also include snow-shoveling, lawn-mowing, or other physical housework.  Anything which gets your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day is a good thing.

Thirty days.  At the end of that time, an amazing thing usually happens: exercise goes from being an "if", to becoming a "when".   And, speaking of "when", getting one's exercise done at the beginning of the day is the optimal choice: it frees your mind from thinking about it; it boosts the metabolism; it gives you more energy throughout the day.  But, we're not all morning people, and therefore you should set aside the time which best works for YOU.

One Last Thing: Do What You Like

No one comes back to be tortured

Yes, you have a noble goal to improve your health and fitness.  But, if you don't like your exercise of choice, you'll dread it.  If you dread it, you won't do it.  And, if you don't do it, you'll disappoint yourself.  We all like some activity more than others: I love running in the woods, but am a terrible swimmer.  If I had to get fit through swimming, I'd bail by Day 2 (assuming I hadn't drowned first).

Find the activity you most like (or dislike least), and stick with it.  If possible, make it social.  It's a lot tougher to hit that snooze button if you know a friend is counting on you.

And, if you need one more measure of your own commitment, try this: Take a rough head count at the gym on January 1st; then, when you reach Day 30, do the same thing.  Let me know what you find.  And be proud of yourself for sticking with it.  At least in terms of your exercise regimen, the rest of 2014 just got a whole lot easier.

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