We need to talk about your New Year’s resolutions. The reason is that this time of year is when most people have abandoned theirs. The extremely poor success rate of New Year’s resolutions is largely due to the fact that we choose unrealistic and/or non-specific ones, such as “I will quit eating sugar”, “I will cut out all carbs, or “I will become a runner” or “I will eat healthy from now on”. If you like sugar, hate running, and are not sure exactly what “eating healthy” means, these resolutions are doomed to fail by about mid-February, if not before.
Although January 1 is just another day and New Year’s resolutions are an invitation to disappointment, I do think it’s useful to take stock of the prior year and think about some positive changes you should make for the next one. If and when you do so, keep in mind that small changes done consistently can have a big impact over time. For example, if you regularly eat sweets, shoot for only twice a week. Better still, if you like dessert after dinner, exchange it for fruit on the weeknights. And then when you do eat sweets, say, twice on the weekend, don’t feel guilty. Feel happy because you’ve earned it and you’ve stuck to your plan.
New Movement for the New Year
I left 2021 quite frustrated at my lack of success in keeping a really tight eating window. I finally realized that I just wasn’t in the right mindset for strict Intermittent Fasting, and the more I tried to force myself to do it, the more I felt like it was a prison of my own making. So when the new year came around I asked myself what change I could make that would be valuable and that I would actually be likely to stick with. That turned out to be a significant increase in my daily movement.
I really like doing calisthenics and I really dislike sitting for long periods of time, so an increased movement goal seemed like a no-brainer. Normally I do 3 sets of push, 3 sets of pull, and 3 sets of squats per day, and depending on the difficulty of the exercises, my total rep counts are usually 150 – 200 for everything combined. I don’t have a Fitbit or anything like that, but I do carry a phone, so I installed a step counter. Without trying my steps are usually 5000-6000, so I decided to shoot for 10,000 a day. I didn’t make a new calisthenics rep goal (foreshadow: that was a mistake) but decided instead to shoot for more sets per day. (Note, if you are doing more reps with the same amount of “rest”, you need to decrease your intensity. Something has to give. So where I normally did 3 sets of close to failure exercises per movement pattern, I made sure my sets under the new plan were less intense.)
I also decided to try NOT to get my steps all in one or two large walks. I dislike walking for its own sake, and more importantly, although 10,000 is just a number, it is a high enough number that to reach it you’re forced to get up frequently from sitting, particularly if you’re not getting most of your steps in one session. And frequently breaking up your sitting sessions is where I believe the real value is here. For me this meant two or three more dog walks than usual per day and frequent breaks from the computer to do small chores around the house that require walking. And of course, I did more sets of push-ups, pull-ups, rows, dips and squats.
My Progress and the Mistakes I Made
Overall the new movement felt great and I had more energy and less fatigue throughout the day. However, and perhaps predictably, I tried to do too much too quickly and peaked pretty early. 10,000 steps per day became a relatively easy mark to hit as long as I took the dog for at least three walks, parked far away from the entrance to the store, and did chores throughout the house. As predicted, the frequent sit stoppages were beneficial. But once 10,000 steps were easy, I bumped my goal up to 11k, then 12k, then 13k. Similarly, with calisthenics, I started doing easy sets, and this quickly led to “junk volume”, or non-productive sets done just to reach target numbers. Eventually I found myself doing easy reps and walking around the house for no reason just to make sure I met my target. Chasing numbers.
Revisit Your Abandoned Goals and Make Them More Realistic
At about the third week was when things began to go downhill. I would guess that this is about the upper limit of “will power”, or forcing oneself to do something one does not want to do just to reach some arbitrary goal. This is the point at which most people drop their goals and let them fade away. Shortly after this point is when I began to stop counting and stop caring.
At the first inflection point, I suggest you sit down and reassess your goals and decide, after the experience you’ve gained, whether they are still worthy goals and if they can be modified slightly to be more realistic and remain something you wish to continue. I can see that 13,000 step days and 1000 rep days are not something I can or want to sustain. Furthermore, they’re not necessary to fulfill the goal of increasing movement. Without trying I’ll get 5000 or more steps a day and 150 or more reps a day. Two to three times these totals is excessive and an invitation to burn out.
So now, near the end of February, I’ve dialed my step goal back down to 10,000 and my rep goal to 300. I plan to leave them here. And I’m setting a calendar event for June 1, 2022 to revisit these goals.