How’s that New Year’s resolution working for you? People are still going on about detox this and purge that, but even that’s slowing down a bit. Social media posts expressing out of reach, aspirational “life purpose” quests that make our day to day worlds seem small and meaningless are still going strong though. So are those “transformation” infomercials.
Yay. Happy New Year.
The average resolution lasts about 12 days. Some last a little longer, but it pretty much goes something like this:
Make a dramatic resolution: “I’m going to lose all of the fat and get to ‘ideal’ race weight”
Decide to eat perfectly, restrict calories, “fix” diet.
Week 1: Lose 3-4 pounds and feel virtuous, a hero. At the end of the week, get invited to dinner. Feel deprived watching everyone else, but still feel virtuous so stick to the diet. Maybe lose a pound, maybe don’t. You don’t sleep well.
Week 2: Your training kind of stinks. You push through, but you feel flat and tired. This is stupid, your coach must be doing it wrong and not paying attention to who you are.
Soon after: You get sick. Or you “blow” your “diet”. Either way, you need comfort, so you have crackers and yummy, creamy soup. Now, you’ve really ruined it, so you have cookies and other treats. Strangely, you finally have a good swim/run/bike, but, whatever. You’ve blown it. You’ll get “back on the wagon” on Monday.
Monday: You’re up 5 lbs. Everything you lost is back. You’re a failure and you quit the stupid diet and go back to what you were doing before, maybe even more of it.
Resolutions set up January Hero, Resolution Zero. Week one, weight comes off because when you cut out carbs, your body drops the water it holds with the glycogen stores. When you cut out food groups, you take in less calories overall as a result. As time passes, the excess water is gone, but you aren’t engaging with your people and you aren’t fueling your daily life. Your lack of fuel, combined with a little loneliness/lack of satisfaction, disrupts your sleep, so you’re tired. A little more time passes and the lack of fuel, fatigue, and the stress of the social restrictions leaves you without the necessary energy to practice your sport. All those lacks and your immune system gets compromised. During winter, everyone is a plague carrier, and you catch something or you finally “cave” and take in a bunch of calories. You rest, heal, and fuel yourself and surprise – you have a good training session. You see friends and are happy. Then the scale makes you feel bad. Even though it’s not real gain, the number comes with all sorts of negative, self-judge-y feelings, so no more virtue and no more hero and maybe even a slide into a rebound response due to the hungry, angry, lonely, tired feelings that have just been experienced. Resolution failure. Different results need a different approach.
Even if your resolution was different, the strong possibility exists that you haven’t been “perfect”. You may have already moved on, or gone back to your usual, at least once. Let’s consider that there might be something wrong with the resolution process as we know it and that it actually isn’t you.
Some resolutions set you up for success and some resolutions set you up for failure. What kinds of things differentiate changes that are sustainable versus changes that aren’t?
Set Up for Failure
- Requires that you avoid socializing, fun, or community
- Makes you feel the things that feed negative spirals: hungry, angry, lonely, tired
- The process controls you
- Promise of instant results, need for instant change
- The metric you measure with is arbitrary and/or makes a negative impact
Set Up for Success
- Part of life, NOT your whole life
- Makes you feel more competent, more energized, stronger, more “you”
- A process you control
- Practice will progress you—and that progress is ALWAYS slow at first, then builds
- The metric you measure with means something and makes a positive impact
What does this really look like? We gotta make some choices. We’re not life coaches here, we’re endurance sport coaches, so what defines the kind of resolution that will set you up to meet your sport goals? Go back to the basics and build your skills there first.
Let’s look at that same “resolution” of feeling more aligned with the energetic body and sport life you want, in a way that might offer a different, practice-based approach.
Set up for Success: “I’m going to fuel my goals by mastering basics first”
Take an inventory of your metabolic health and energy needs. Is your system healthy and nourished? What are your energy needs? You need a base amount of energy just to get through your day, then more to fuel your practice, and even more to recover/rebuild/adapt to your practice. Fueling goals is NOT limited to the food you eat. Do you sleep? How do you handle stress? Do you have the strength and skill to perform the techniques of your sports and maintain form under fatigue? These are the basics to build us. Each one adds. Master one. ONE.
Sleep: For most of us, improving our sleep quality and sleep quantity will do more to fuel goals than any other single basic. Sleep is when you heal and improving it to any degree helps you adapt to your training and prepare for what comes next. No sleep, no adaptation to training stress. Start by just tracking. Then, set up a pre-sleep (sleep hygiene) routine and track it again.
Life stress: This sucker has as much of an impact on your ability to perform and recover as fuel and rest. You may not be able to control your life situation, but how you interpret it and how often you take even a moment to decelerate your “fight or flight” system changes how your body adapts to your training stress. Take deep breath breaks. Start with one. Track how you feel before and after.
Fueling: A major part of fueling and energy balance is the type and amount of fuel we take in. Start with portion sizes OR vegetables. We could all eat 1 more vegetable each day and ain’t none of us really, truly aware of what a portion actually looks like. Nudge choices towards getting the right energy levels and sources to fuel your life and health. Portion sizes are my eye opener right now. Do you know what a serving of pasta is? Of fish? Of broccoli? Getting a single portion on my plate (or intentionally choosing 2-3 portions) puts me on a path to balancing what I need to fuel my days, including my sport practices and the other 20+ hours too.
Skills: How often do you practice? Not train, but bring attention to practice? How do you handle the frustration of not getting it right on the timeline you want? Within the context of work, how often to you adjust form? Every session has the opportunity to refine one small thing. One minute at the beginning, attention during your work set, one minute after the work, adds up. In a sport where every gain adds speed or lowers effort, those minutes add value.
The path to resolution success is not a magic moment. There will be no instant celebration. Successful change follows a meandering path in a way that is a sustainable part of your life. You build new practices and skills to support you for the long-term, not just be a January Hero. Growth and change are slow, but they matter. Life is long, building an infrastructure to support the whole journey matters. Resolution success comes with a “more often” and “a little bit better” mindset, rather than some sort of hero/failure/good/bad one. Checks and balances, a little less, a little more, not all or nothing. Let’s start a resolution revolution and make one change that matters!
- Coach Sue Sotir, PhD, USAT LII, Ironman Certified Coach, NSCA-CSCS, Pn1
*photo credit Ludo Minar