As the confetti settles and the New Year unfolds, the air is charged with the energy of change. I know not everyone is into making New Year's resolutions - but I say anytime is a good time to make positive changes. Opening up a fresh, empty day planner for the year is like standing in front of a blank canvas, inviting us all to ponder how we want to shape our future. It’s an opportunity to create meaningful change. Let's take it!
'EXERCISE MORE' is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. As a yoga and fitness teacher I’ve seen class sizes balloon each January only to deflate by March year after year after year - like clockwork. People kick off the new year with the best of intentions, but enthusiasm fizzles within a few weeks. Why does that happen? Well, a lot of that initial excitement stems from guilt about holiday indulgences and a desire to shed the extra pounds. According to Health Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, PhD, that’s not the kind of motivation that fuels lasting change. What you need to succeed is intrinsic motivation.
The trick to creating an exercise resolution that sticks is to dig deeeeeeeep into WHY you want more exercise in your life. Here are 4 tips to help you get it down this year:
1. Understand Your Motivation – Intrinsic vs Extrinsic
When you’re intrinsically motivated, you do something because it feels genuinely satisfying and fulfilling. It’s about the joy you get from exercise itself, not external rewards.
Scenario: You choose to incorporate regular exercise into your routine as a New Year’s resolution.
Intrinsic Motivation: You’re in it because you want to feel strong, healthy, energized and vital. The sheer joy of movement and its positive impact on your well-being are what keep you going. You might feel a burst of energy after your very first workout, giving you the motivation to stick with it. Movement is its own reward.
Extrinsic Motivation: On the flip side, wanting to achieve a specific weight or fit into a specific pant size is what's driving you. Your satisfaction will come from reaching some external goal, not from the act of moving itself. The results you want to see may take awhile. This can lead to frustration and a lack of motivation.
In the long run, the intrinsically motivated person is more likely to stick with their resolution because they genuinely enjoy the activity and value its immediate positive impact on their well-being. Setting goals is great, but it’s even more crucial to align your behaviours with your values. Commit to what you really value most ... feeling good, energized, healthy, and vital.
2. Know Your WHY
Delve into the motivations behind your resolution. Exercise isn’t just about shedding pounds; it’s a freaking treasure trove of benefits for your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Check out my blog on the Miraculous Healing Power of Muscles for some awesome motivation.
Movement is a natural mood booster that fights stress, anxiety and depression. It improves cognitive function and brain structure. On the surface of things, you may want to shed pounds or alter your appearance in some way, but if you dig deeper, what you're likely to discover is that what you really want is to feel good in your body and mind. Let that be your motivation. You can have those results immediately after your first walk, yoga session or dance class.
If you resolve to do things that help you feel good in your body and mind, you can be flexible with HOW you achieve that. If it turns out the gym's not a good fit for you, no problem! You’re free to explore other options like a local yoga studio, running group, pickleball club or ballroom dance class. You'll know when you've found the movement practice that's right for you because it'll light you up and you'll want to return to it again and again. Now you've found your intrinsic motivation!
3. Be Compassionate with Setbacks
Change is hard. Especially big changes. If you’re planning a big change for the new year, have a realistic vision of what that process actually looks like, and give yourself grace. Change isn't linear; it involves backsliding, obstacles and mistakes. So, expect those. You don’t necessarily change at the moment you vow to make a change. Lasting change requires forming new habits and new habits take time to form.
Any meaningful change is probably going to include the day you feel like giving up and the day you don't get your planned workout in because you just plain don't feel like it. That's normal. Remember this: no one day defines the story of you as a human forever. You can always workout tomorow or next week and carry on from there.
Sometimes unexpected life events happen – be prepared for that, and be compassionate with yourself when it happens. Getting derailed doesn’t mean you’re not capable of living the life you aspire to live. You can always get back on track.
4. Practice Mindful Self-Reflection
Mindfulness is your BFF on the journey of self-discovery and change. Daily self-reflection is a powerful tool to help you assess whether the exercise behaviours you've chosen to change are moving the needle in the right direction. Try and enjoy the process of growth instead of fixating on end goals.
As you step into the new year, let it be a mindful exploration of your self and your values, and enjoy the process of creating meaningful change in your life. Embrace the journey. Be compassionate with setbacks, and remember that each day is a new opportunity to move the story of change in your chosen direction. Here’s to a year filled with mindful movement!
Additional Reading and Resources
The Joy of Movement and The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, PhD
Amanda Tripp, Yoga/body nerd and woman of a 1000 opinions