New Year's Resolutions: How to Make them Work for You, Part I

By Dr. Steve Jonas | Jan. 08, 2016, 2:19 p.m. (ET)

Some folks make New Year’s resolutions and some don’t. One reason that the “don’t do it” group doesn’t is that failure to keep has not been an uncommon experience. This column, Part I of a two-part series, contains some general principles for resolution-making that in my experience can help you to succeed. Next month we shall turn to some particulars, particularly in the area of mobilizing motivation.

For starters, don't be put off in making a New Year's resolution by previous failures in keeping resolutions. There are many reasons why we fail other than the lack of will or lack of dedication or some other internal fault upon which we often put the blame. Often it is, rather, that we fail to correctly go about the resolution-setting process in the first place. In other words, more often than not when we fail, we have set ourselves up for failure. In considering both health-related personal behaviors and behavior change in general and our sport in particular, how about setting yourself up for success this time around? Here are a few guidelines that you might find helpful in that regard.

First, don't make too many resolutions. One that you achieve is much better than 10 that you don't. One in fact is a good number. If you do follow through with it, then later in the year there's nothing wrong with setting another one, of the “New Year’s” type or not, even if the weather is warm when you do it. 

Second, pick something that you think you will be actually able to follow through on, even if it seems fairly simple. That could be making sure that, if you are not already, being both regular and consistent in your training.  (Regularity means that you stick to pretty much the same days-of-the-week schedule throughout your training season, rather three days this week, and 7 next. Consistency means that you don’t have wide variations in the times/distances you do on your schedule, but that you make changes on them gradually during it.) As I close in on 35 years in our sport, I have found that this is most reflective of my training program, over that time. Once you've done something new, but not overly challenging, you will be better set up in your head for trying something more demanding.

Third, looking at the broader picture of personal health, make sure that whatever it is you decide to change in your life, like eating a diet lighter in fat and heavier (but not too much heavier) on carbohydrates, you are making the change for yourself, not someone else.  Many studies have shown that internal motivation works much better over the long run than external motivation.

Having established these principles, it's on to making the resolution (or resolutions if you don't like my more minimalist approach). Regular readers of my work will be familiar with what comes next. First, on the broader scale, assess yourself on your present health habits and health status: activity level, weight, eating patterns, smoking yes/no, and so forth. What's right? It's always a good idea to build on strengths. What do you think you could do better?

On the training/racing side, you can do the same thing. What went well last season? What went not so well? Then make your choice of what to work on, remembering to pick an area in which you think that you can actually make a change for the better, now. And then, within that area, set a doable goal for yourself, and be sure to give yourself a reasonable period of time to achieve it.

Realism is the most important element here, whether you are dealing with a broader lifestyle issue or a narrower one in racing. To make sure that you will have a reasonable chance of achieving your resolution or resolutions, you first must be certain that they are reasonable for you. If they are, you will have a reasonable chance of achieving them. If they are not, that will lead only to frustration and bad feelings about yourself. And that is not a good place to be, just as in most parts of the country, you will be approaching your next racing season.

An earlier version of this column was published on the (now inactive) website "Your Wellness Matters," on July 22, 2010.

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This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, "101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes" (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Steve’s most recent multisport book is "Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It" (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

His first book on multisport racing, "Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®" 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.