So you roared into '05 in a swirl of resolve, finally inked that long-eluded gym membership, got some spiffy new shoes, busted your tail for three weeks (Run! Lift! Stretch! Spin!) and now . . . well, Monday was really busy, you were feeling a little under the weather on Tuesday, and Wednesday? Well, another day of rest couldn't hurt. Friday looks good, if I can get to the gym before happy hour. . . .
Face it: The fire is fading, the drudgery is setting in and you're thinking, "Do I really need to do this? Can I really do this?"
The Moving Crew explores some facet of fitness and offer ways to overcome the excuses that keep so many of us desk- and sofa-bound. Join them, every other Thursday at 11 a.m. ET.
We think you can. Even better, we chased down an expert to tell you how.
The biggest differentiator at this time of year between people who stick with their plans and those who bail is the buddy system, said John C. Norcross, a University of Scranton psychology professor who has published numerous studies on New Year's resolutions and co-authored "Changing for Good" (Perennial Currents, 1995).
"We found that having someone to exercise with or someone who bugs you about going to the gym doesn't make a difference in January, but it does in February," Norcross told us. "People can tough it out on their own for a month, but after that it gets hard." The exercise pal -- or cop, in the case of a nagging friend, spouse or office mate -- adds incentive.
It's easy to pass up a workout if you're the only one involved. It's a lot harder to say no to a co-worker with a bag on her shoulder or to a friend you know is waiting for you on the corner.
Norcross also noted that successful and failed resolvers have equal numbers of slip-ups, like a missed workout or two.
"Successful people think about it differently," he said. For them, "a slip doesn't need to become a fall. A lapse does not mean a relapse. Unsuccessful people automatically think they won't make it" -- and use a single mess-up as an excuse to quit the program. "Everyone slips up; it's how you respond that makes the difference."
Another major factor in resolution success: environmental control. No, not moving to Florida so you can play outside every day (although, if that works for you . . .). It means making your surroundings work toward your goal.
Just as the smoker should avoid tobacco-heavy bars, an aspiring regular exerciser should join a gym near home or work, pack workout clothes so they're ready by the door, make the workout an "appointment" on the calendar book. And surround herself with people who will support her new habit.
Imagine your exercise as a part-time job: You can call in sick every once in a while, but most days, you gotta show up, even if it's not your most productive day.
Lastly, Norcross advises, people who reward themselves for their efforts tend to honor their resolutions more than others. Five workouts wins a movie. A dozen workouts in a month earns a massage. Too many people refuse to reward themselves out of a puritanical (and misguided) sense that they should be exercising regularly and thus don't deserve an indulgence for the effort.
The goal -- with fitness or any other lifestyle change -- is to ingrain the habit to the point where you have high confidence that you'll maintain the behavior across all circumstances and resist relapse temptations. This, Norcross said, "takes at least three months, often longer."
If you need a nag, we're right here, every week, and we'll be online Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon. E-mail in the meantime is firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- John Briley