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Why Don’t New Year’s Resolutions Stick?

For many Canadians, December is a time to gather with friends and families, celebrate the holidays and celebrate with each other. The January blues hit hard when the calendar changes, leaving many struggling to readjust to the new year with no festivities to look forward to and the sense of cheer and spending gone.

With a new year comes a fresh slate and a new chance to revitalize your life and habits. Around the world, people ready themselves for January 1st like runners at the start of a marathon. The idea of a “new year, new you” entices millions to make the personal changes they’ve been dreaming of. New Year’s resolutions date back thousands of years to the Babylonians and remain a part of the celebrations for many in the days after the party streamers are swept up and the rest of the year stands before us. 

Some may resolve to drink less, while others will pick up a new diet or set out how many books they will read, and many will want to hit the gym. 

The top New Year resolution every year is to improve one’s own wellbeing by way of a healthier diet, increasing exercise and sleep or socializing more. The most notable overall is people seeking to improve their physical fitness. Whether it is for the physique or the general wellbeing that comes as a part of being an active person, the new year makes many come to the gym for the first time. This creates a massive influx of new gym memberships every January 2024, which is no exception.  

A look at Google trends shows that searches relating to weight loss and exercise spike in January every year. 

To get an idea of the average year gym membership sales, a report of sales from 2016 published by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association showed 10.8 per cent of gym memberships documented were sold in January. The next closest month for sales was June, with 8.9 per cent of memberships sold in the year. Similar reports indicate that half of New Year gym goers fall out of their newfound regimen by the end of the month.  

A study by the University of Pennsylvania shows that people are more driven to make personal changes during the New Year due in part to it being a shared holiday. This sense of community contributes partially to the benefits of pursuing self-betterment in the new year.  

Data varies, but polls indicate that between 33 and 45 per cent of those who choose to make a New Year resolution focus on increasing their exercise or eating better. While it is great to expect more of ourselves and even raise the bar when we know we can achieve more, the data on our collective ability to stick to these goals is a little less inspiring. 

According to a poll done by Tetley 57 per cent of Canadians do not believe in resolving to change in the new year. The same poll shows that 25 per cent of respondents say they make resolutions with the intention of abiding by it, though they typically lose motivation midway through January. Many resolutions involve seeing more of the ones they love, while others strive for greater career growth and improved financial situations. While these goals would serve anyone well, what good is any of the wishful thinking if so many of us struggle to maintain these profound goals? 

According to members of the self-help and psychology community, the key to lasting change is balance and consistency. New habits are a tough thing to develop. As we go through our lives, we become naturally accustomed to our lifestyle, whatever it may be. The reality is that these habits, these behavioural patterns, strengthen the neural connections in our brain associated with those behaviours. If we are accustomed to a particular activity, the neuronal pathway that facilitates this activity is strengthened through repetition.  

When we are looking to break a bad habit, we are up against our physiological makeup. Breaking the habit means resisting a physical urge supported by neuronal pathways. In abandoning bad habits and adopting new habits, you are working out your brain in a new way. A way to consider it is as if you’re working out new muscles as the neural pathways of the new habit are weak at first but will strengthen as a result of repeating the task on numerous occasions.  

This may seem like a tall order because it is.  

With that in mind, it is crucial to remember in the first days and weeks of a new habit that we take it easy on ourselves. If you missed the gym yesterday, don’t beat yourself up. Find the time today or find a way to make up for it another way. Forgot to do that Spanish lesson before bed last night? Maybe do an extra one today. Above all, get back on track and maintain the new routine.

While we work to develop these new habits, a positive team around us helps tremendously. More than anyone, we need to be our own number one fan to keep morale high. Perhaps a small treat for the little victories in the first few days, lessening as time goes by and the new behaviour really starts becoming a habit. With small goals come small victories, which create a positive head space and act as motivation for further self-improvement and greater dedication to the task at hand.

Another key to keeping at it, particularly when looking to get back into the gym, is establishing a network of people who can encourage you to stick to your goals. This might be a friend or a personal trainer who can teach you the best way to remain consistent with your workouts. 

Chief Operating Officer at GoodLife Fitness Jason Sheridan touched on this idea, emphasizing the value and importance of getting help when entering the gym for the first time or the first time in a while. 

“For any member looking to start or return to a fitness routine, we encourage them to seek guidance, motivation, and support in the form of personal training and group fitness classes alongside using different types of equipment and amenities.” 

Good Life emphasizes that a healthy workout atmosphere encourages individuals to come back the next day and really cement their goals. 

“The more positive and enjoyable our members’ fitness experience is, the more likely they are to stick with it over the long term.”   

Devices like fitness-tracking watches and apps also help engage people, creating an interactive way to track their fitness goals. Sometimes, putting a little money into these products can be encouragement enough to get your money’s worth. 

While making changes to lifestyle and daily habits is no small task, the right mentality and approach will ultimately be the difference maker for those seeking to stick to their resolutions this year. Starting with achievable goals is a great way to get started with a new habit. When we try taking on more than we’re capable of, that’s when we’re most likely to fail. Little changes will lead to big results with dedication and consistency. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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