The holiday season is upon us and that means the staff here at Oakville’s Palermo Physiotherapy and Wellness are bound to be a bit more jolly – and perhaps (in my case anyway) a little more round in the middle. We are surrounded by delicious foods and beverages, not to mention booked up with time commitments, all of which can lead to less than ideal lifestyle decisions. Luckily, with the new year comes fresh motivation and a will to get back on the wagon.
Anyone that has ever belonged to a gym will tell you how this goes. The first week of January hits and the place is full – good luck finding a locker, a spot in spin class, or a squat rack. However, you deal with it knowing that by March Break, you’ll be back to your normal routine with the regulars – none of whom you speak to, yet feel you know intimately based on their lifting routine.
Lifestyle change is hard, as evidenced by the drop-off at the gym. Inertia is difficult to overcome, and individuals who make the decision to change are vulnerable to being knocked off course. This can include illnesses, appointments, or barriers like a lack of progress. It is a lot easier to find reasons to fail, than reasons to succeed. How do we change this?
Exercise Psychology is a massive field with many bright individuals, all seeking to answer the question of what makes people get healthy and what makes them stay there. We all generally recognize exercise as being a positive thing, yet the majority of people don’t meet recommended guidelines for exercise. How can you be one of the successful ones?
One of the most effective strategies I have found in my own routine is goal setting. Before setting out on your new years resolution, ask yourself a few questions (best remembered by the acronym SMART)
1) Is it Specific?
Saying “I want to be more fit” is not going to cut it. Saying “I want to lose weight” is not going to cut it. Try to set a process goal for yourself, like “Increase from one spin class per week to two”. You have complete control over this, less vulnerable to the whims of a bad weigh-in or a subjective description of what it means to be fit.
2) Is it Measurable?
Accountability matters. If your goal is vague, your commitment declines. Step count, gym workouts, and caloric intake are all objective measures you can use to hold yourself accountable. There are tons of great products and apps on the market that you can help you to measure your activity levels – useful for goal-setting AND motivation.
3) Is it Achievable
A little honest self-reflection is important. We all have limits on our physical performance – I will never ever be Connor McDavid – and it is important to recognize this. Winning the Boston Marathon is not in the cards for me. Be modest with where you set the bar, as it is easier to aim for goalposts you can actually see.
4) Is it Realistic?
Modest goal are achievable goals. Want to do 10 000 steps a day? It takes about 10 minutes to walk 1000 steps, so a little over 1.5 hours a day of walking depending on your pace. That seems doable. 50 000 steps might not be.
5) Is it Timely?
Put a curfew on your goal so you can evaluate and reflect. Aim to achieve your goal in a set amount of time. If you make it early, push yourself. If you don’t achieve it on schedule, ask yourself why. If you have a long term goal, say to lose a certain amount off your waist circumference, it helps to set short term goals leading up to it. It is generally wiser to shoot for something you can see.
Once you have set your SMART goal, come up with a plan for barriers. A barrier is anything that might stand in your way of achieving that goal, whether it be commitments to your kids, health issues, or your boss at work. Develop strategies for dealing with these things. Can’t get to spin class on Wednesday night because your daughter has hockey practice? Arrange a car pool, or plan to go on Thursday night instead. Build in backup times to your schedule to account for emergencies. People tend to adopt an all-or-none policy (missed the gym once already this week, may as well just write-off the week), so give yourself opportunities to dig out of the hole.
Once you have identified the barriers, figure out your facilitators, or those things/people that are going to help you stick to your goal. This could mean sharing your workout diary with a friend, or leaning more heavily on your spouse. Share your goals with people you trust – they can help hold you accountable in a non-judgmental way.
Finally…write it down. Place your goal in a place where you will see it frequently, and let that be your reminder. It takes a long time to form new habits, so cut yourself some slack (and enjoy that extra piece of pie – I know I will)
MScPT, BA Kin