New Year’s Resolution Part VI: You’ve Achieved Your Goal! Now What?


The end is nigh for this dissection of the always popular yet often daunting new year’s resolution. The real key to a successful resolution isn’t a particular workout or diet, it’s getting your mind right. The target isn’t your butt or you gut, it’s your brain. To recap, I suggest you consider the following:

From where you are, to where you want to be

  • Ask yourself why exactly you want to achieve your resolution. You must connect to your goal on an emotional level. It must be meaningful to you.
  • Motivation is crucial to your success. Motivation is the only thing that will keep you moving forward. Intrinsic motivation (motivation from within you, not without) is optimal.
  • Have a plan and set SMART goals. This will allow your motivation to drive you in the right direction.
  • Set objectives. Objectives are the steps that take you to your goal. If you focus on the objectives then you focus on the process. The process will take you to your goal.
  • Get specific about details. If this resolution is important then it’s worth taking some time to think about when you’ll exercise, where you’ll exercise, what you will and won’t eat, how much sleep you’ll get, plus several other vital questions.

Now the journey continues.

If you’re one of the diligent few who actually perseveres and reaches your new year’s resolution, then congratulations! I hope you’ll pat yourself on the back and revel in your significant achievement. Your motivation, your planning, and your hard work have all payed off. My bet is you want to maintain those impressive results. If so, please recognize that the resolution must continue!

My sincere hope for you is that you’ve not just gritted through an arduous, monotonous process, but that you’ve taken on a healthy lifestyle comprised of enjoyable, sustainable habits. Recognize that fitness is an ongoing project that’s never finished. It’s worth reflecting on the emotions that motivate you. It’s a good idea to revisit your fitness plan and revise it so you can achieve another exciting goal.

As part of this wrap-up, I want to re-emphasize the power of being process-oriented in the pursuit of your resolution. This concept is discussed in Big Goals Can Backfire. Olympians Show Us What to Focus on Instead. It’s an excellent article. Here’s part of it:

“A process mind-set creates daily opportunities for little victories, which help sustain the motivation required to accomplish long-term goals. A handful of studies, including one in the prestigious journal Nature, provide insight into why this is the case. Researchers have found that when mice accomplish micro objectives on the path to distant goals (e.g., making a correct turn in a maze), their bodies release dopamine, the neurochemical associated with motivation and drive. Without hits of dopamine, the mice become apathetic and give up. Although these studies cannot be safely replicated in humans, scientists speculate we operate the same way. Process promotes progress, and progress, on a neurochemical level, primes us to persist.”

Finally, please let me know if you’d like to discuss your fitness goals. I would love to help you get moving in the right direction. I’m available for a free consultation. You can contact me at


New Year’s Resolution Part V: Putting Rubber On the Road


The prior post discussed planning for your new year’s resolution and the need for objectives, or specific measurable steps, that will result in your successful achievement of your goal. I also introduced the idea that in planning for your resolution, your plan needs to be couched in the reality of your life.

I can’t say it enough: You need to be honest with yourself and set objectives that are realistic and manageable for you.  You can definitely achieve your goal but it must be broken down into manageable steps. I’ve said it before in this series and I’ll continue to hammer on the point that you must be patient and persistent. It’s imperative that you focus on the process—the process, the process, the process!—of getting to your goal. Focus on what you can do right now, today and don’t get obsessive about the end goal.

I’m not going to give you specific objectives. Rather, I’m going to give you some questions and details to consider when forming your objectives. First, look at the motivation scale. Keep it in mind as you consider your course of action. If, on a particular action your motivation is 8 or higher, then get to it! If your motivation is below an 8 then don’t consider the action. For example if I ask you how motivated you are to join a gym and start working out X number of times per week and your answer is 9, then you’re ready to get going. If I ask you how motivated you are to start cooking X number of meals a week and your answer is 4, then you’re not ready and you should perhaps revisit the idea at a later time. Be honest with yourself or there’s no point in doing any of this.


What are you ready to do?

Start an exercise program? Change your eating? Go to bed earlier? All of the above? Not everyone is ready to address all the details that go into a fit, strong, healthy body. Maybe you’re ready to start lifting weights but you’re not ready to make dietary changes. Maybe you’re open to starting a walking program but not ready to join a gym.

If you’re new to fitness and exercise, or if you’ve struggled with resolutions in the past, then I suggest you start with one thing. Find some success early where it’s easy, then address other needs when you’re ready. If you try to do too much too soon then you may become overwhelmed and give up. Can you start with one or two days a week of exercise? Can you start cooking one meal per day? Can you pick one or two days per week to either go to bed early or sleep in?

(Have you found time to do the homework in these other posts? If not, then you may not be ready to move on.)

What activities do you enjoy?

If you can build your exercise routine around an activity you like to do then it’s likely you’ll do it. If on the other hand you hate to run then building your weight loss resolution around running (or anything you can’t stand to do) is a bad idea. What physical activity or activities are you ready and willing to undertake?

What type of exercise?

We typically discuss “strength training” and “cardio.” The truth is, physical activity exists along a sliding scale. Lifting heavy things for short durations has its benefits as does prolonged, lower-intensity work. Do you know what type of work your resolution requires? Do you have any experience lifting? Going back to the question above, is there a type of activity which you enjoy the most? Beyond that, do you know how much you should lift for how many reps and sets for your goal? Do you know how often, for how long, and at what intensity you should engage in cardio-focused activity for your particular goal?

What time of day to exercise?

Figure out what time of day is best for you to work out. If you’re not a morning person then going to the gym before work may not be a great idea. Working out after work or at lunch are options to consider. Your work schedule, family obligations, and what time of day you prefer all pertinent factors. What time of day works best for you?

How many days per week to exercise?

Optimally, you’re going to engage in some sort of physical activity of varying intensity on most days of the week; but if you’re not currently exercising at all, then aiming for five, six, or seven days per week might be unrealistic. Can you start with one? Two? How many days per week will you realistically do something called “exercise?” Further, most fitness plans should have hard days and easy days. Exercising hard every day isn’t a good idea. Hard work must be balanced with rest and recovery.

Where’s the best place for you to exercise?

Ideally you’ll exercise in a place where you feel comfortable, confident, and welcomed. A gym? Outdoors? A class? Yoga or Pilates studio? Strenuous yard work and manual labor count as exercise too.

Gyms and studios are much like restaurants. They cater to different clientele with different tastes. All gyms and studios aren’t the same. If you don’t like the feel of one then visit another.

(One observation: Most people need to leave the home to get a worthwhile workout. Virtually no one develops a successful exercise habit at home. Home exercise equipment typically turns into an expensive laundry rack. The home has a million other diversions and strangely, with the option to work out anytime, you’ll never actually work out.)


Aches and pains are serious roadblocks to fitness goal. If you hurt while lifting weights, running, hiking, swimming, etc., then you may need to see a physical therapist, chiropractor, or some other type of injury rehab professional. The sooner you get help with injuries, the sooner you can get at your goal.

Have you considered sleep?

There is strong evidence that lack of sleep contributes to obesity. Sleep is also important for athletic performance. If your resolution has anything to do with weight loss or athletic achievement then sleep is crucial to your goal. Many Americans don’t sleep enough. Most of us need 8+ hours of sleep per night. More coffee isn’t the solution, nor is “just getting used to it.” Won’t work!

Can you start going to bed earlier? Or sleep in on certain days? Maybe you can sleep more just one or two days (preferably more) days per week? Can you turn off the electronic devices an hour before bedtime? It’s important!

Food preparation

If your resolution is physique-related (fat loss and/or muscle gain) then your food intake is of tremendous importance. You can’t out-exercise bad eating habits. There’s no way around it. Studies show that if you prepare your own food then odds are you’ll have a healthier diet than if you eat out or eat convenience foods. Do you prepare any of your own food? Do you grocery shop? Do you know how to cook? Do you own some pots and pans? Are you willing to start preparing more of you own food? If so, how many meals are you willing to prepare? If you currently prepare none of your own food, then starting with just one meal per day—or even one meal per week—is a starting place.

Two things to remember: “Prepare” doesn’t necessarily mean “cook,” and I’m not advocating a particular diet here. I’m asking if you’re ready to get involved with feeding yourself.

Your support system

Getting help helps! Tackling a big goal by yourself is tough. Evidence suggests that accountability and positive social support are important factors in successful weight loss. Do the people around you support your efforts? Are you willing to enlist an accountability partner? Can you find allies at home and/or in the work place who can facilitate your new year’s resolution? Enlisting a personal trainer is one powerful way to stay accountable. It’s even better if you can bring friends to your cause.


Here are some examples of measurable objectives that one might take as steps toward his or her fitness goal(s):

  • Meet with my trainer twice a week at the gym
  • Prepare breakfast five mornings a week
  • Turn off electronic devices an hour before bed every night
  • Walk for 20-30 minutes four days per week
  • Add in a yoga class to my current fitness routine
  • Schedule a visit with a physical therapist to get my knee/back/shoulder/whatever pain figured out.
  • Start eating a piece of fruit every day
  • Cut back on fast food from four to two days per week

This is a very short list of ideas and suggestions about objectives. Each individual will have his or her own specific needs.


A few things to remember:

  • Focus on the process more than the end result you want. What can you do right now, today that will help move you toward your goal?
  • The most significant fitness results (including your resolution) don’t come in a few weeks. It’s an ongoing process that takes patience and persistence. If you reach your goal, and if you want to keep those results, then the journey continues.
  • Don’t expect to be perfect. No one is, including those models, athletes, and those Internet fitness celebrities who give the appearance of perfection. You won’t make every single workout. Not every bite of food will be “healthy.” One slip-up doesn’t wreck all your work. Your motivation is huge here. Do you remember why it is you’re working toward your goal?
  • New, healthy habits are made over time. You won’t be highly motivated every day. We’re not always highly motivated to go to work either but we go. Some days we must simply punch the clock.



New Year’s Resolution Part IV: Objectives & What’s Realistic?


In terms of your health & fitness, there’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. Your new year’s resolution is your attempt to bridge that gap. That gap—or perhaps a yawning void—can be intimidating and confusing. But if you’ve figured out exactly why you want to embark on your resolution, you’re properly motivated, and your resolution has been put through the SMART process, then you’re ready to put together a plan.

Why do you need a plan? Isn’t just walking into a gym and starting on the latest diet enough? I don’t think so. Any significant achievement has a plan behind it. Planning for retirement, opening a business, building a house. None of these things happen without a solid plan. Making significant changes in your life that result in better health, more strength, a leaner body, and better movement is no different.


Objectives are a series of measurable steps that lead to your goal. This is the work that must be done to see your resolution achieved. Objectives should be written down and you should have a solid grasp of what your objectives are from day to day. You probably don’t need many objectives. Just a few is fine. Better to have a few that you can achieve rather than too many which you fail to achieve. Also, by focusing on the objectives—by focusing on the process, not just the end point—your resolution will become a reality.

What’s realistic?

I emphasize this point to you. Be honest with yourself in terms of what you’re willing and able to do with regard to lifestyle changes: diet, exercise, rest… New year’s resolutions are notorious for being dramatic, grand, and severely too ambitious. I’ve seen it over and over again that someone ignores reality and picks an arbitrary goal for which he or she is totally totally unprepared.

As you plan I suggest you take a step back and look at your life as a whole. Look at your relationships, family commitments, your work schedule, and what you enjoy doing. As you plan, I’d like  you to have in mind this motivation scale:


In the next post, I’ll discuss the following issues and how they should inform your objectives.

What are you ready to do? Start an exercise program? Change your eating? Both?

What do you like to do? What can’t you stand to do?

What time of day to exercise?

How many days per week to exercise?

Where’s the best place for you to exercise? A gym? Outdoors? A class? Yoga or Pilates studio?

Have you considered sleep?

Food preparation: Do you know how to cook?

Support system: Do the people around you support your efforts?

What else is going on in your life?

Please stay tuned!

New Year’s Resolutions Part III: Setting Your Goal(s)


In part I of this series I gave an overview of two key components of a successful resolution, motivation and planning. In part II I discussed different types of motivation, why proper motivation is crucial for a resolution, why you should focus on the process rather than the finish line, and I gave you a task to explore the reasons why you want to achieve your goal. (If you haven’t done the drill then I suggest you stop right now and either do it or give up. I’m speaking honestly with you.) Now I’m going to dig deeper into the planning process. We’re going to discuss goals. In order to get you from where you are to where you want to be you will need a detailed roadmap, a step-by-step process to move you forward.

SMART goal setting

At the end of Part II of this series, I asked you to write down your “whys” or why your resolution is important. I wanted you to develop emotional buy-in and motivation for working toward your goals. Now I want you to get specific with exactly what you want to achieve. Weight loss? Muscle mass? Strength? Mobility? More energy? Some combination thereof? You need to be very specific so that your time and hard work will deliver you directly toward your goal. Otherwise you may do the wrong kind of work and never approach your goal. As with figuring out your “whys,” this is a brain exercise. You need to think. You need to connect to your goal on several levels. You may be familiar with the SMART goal setting concept. It works very well for setting and planning for fitness goals.


To make your plan specific to your needs and wants, you need to be very clear on how you define success. What does a successful resolution look like to you? This information will dictate such details as exercise selection, dietary modifications, exercise frequency, and rest habits.

  • You want to be “in-shape.” Define in-shape. What does that term mean to you? A different physique? What does that look like? More muscle? Less fat?
  • You want to “feel better.” What does that mean? How do you know you don’t feel well right now? Describe what feeling better will feel like.
  • You want to “be stronger.” How do you know you’re weak? What tells you that you’re not strong? What tasks are you unable to perform due to weakness?
  • You want “better balance.” What tells you you have poor balance? What tasks and activities would you like to perform as a result of having better balance?
  • You want to be “more flexible.” Why? How do you know you’re not flexible? Give a specific example of how your lack of flexibility limits you.
  • “I want to run a 10k this year.” That’s specific.


Once you’ve described your resolution in specific terms, we can determine how to measure progress. You need to keep track of certain metrics to make certain that what you’re doing is working and that you’re progressing toward your goals. Tracking progress will do a lot for your motivation. If you’re not seeing progress then your plan needs adjustment. If you’re not assessing then you’re guessing.

  • Lbs. lost or gained
  • inches lost or gained
  • body fat % up or down
  • amount of weight lifted
  • exercise proficiency (perform a good pushup, squat, or kettlebell swing for example)
  • exercise frequency
  • ability to perform a task (climb stairs, run a given distance, work in the yard, or pick up a child for instance)


Is your goal realistic to your skill level, experience, and ability? It’s important to shoot for a goal that’s appropriately challenging. People often aim too high and set an unrealistically difficult goal. Failure then kills motivation. It’s also possible to pick a goal that’s too conservative. It’s not a huge problem but it may not provide much motivation to you and if you reach your goal then you won’t get the sense of achievement that you want. A trainer or a coach can help you set a proper goal.

  • Overly aggressive goals:
    • Losing more than 2 lbs. per week.
    • Adding more than 1-2 lbs. of muscle per month
    • You’re never completed a triathlon but you want to race an Ironman.
    • You don’t hike or climb mountains and you want to scale Mt. Everest.
    • You currently don’t exercise and you’re not a morning person but as part of your weight-loss goal, you resolve to work out every morning before work.
    • You hate to run but you decide to lose weight through running many miles.
    • You decide to lose weight by eliminating your favorite foods. Now you’ve set yourself up for an arduous struggle that you will lose and then you’ll feel guilty. Better to reduce certain foods, not eliminate them.
    • Making the Olympic team in a sport you don’t play or just started to play.
    • Become a pro athlete at any sport. (If you have the potential to be a pro then you’re already competing at a very high level, you’re a microscopic fraction of the population, and you already have excellent coaching.)


Is your resolution relevant to your values? Do you have a strong emotional connection to your resolution? Are you making this resolution of your own free-will or is someone pressuring you? Is now the right time in your life to pursue your resolution or are there significant obstacles to reaching your goal? A strong connection of your resolution to your values and emotions is immensely important in developing and maintaining your motivation. You must be honest with yourself here.


Your goal should be set within a timeframe. A ticking clock will help ensure that you actually do the work necessary to achieve your goal. Checking the measurable metrics of your goal in a timely fashion will ensure that you’re on track to reach your goal.

“I want to lose weight,” is not only non-specific but it’s also an open-ended in terms of time. Open-ended goals can be done anytime, which means they can be done later, which means they’ll never be achieved. In contrast, “I want to lose 20 lbs. in 15 weeks,” puts your goal in a definite, attainable timeframe. Now it’s far more likely that you’ll get to work.


Your first homework assignment was to flesh out and determine your reasons why you want to achieve your resolution. Now I want you to apply the SMART concept to your resolution. BTW, you should do these assignment away from distractions. Get away from the phone, the TV, and other people who need your time. Find some time and a location where you can think clearly. Bonus points go to you if you put pen to paper instead of pecking on a laptop.

If you’re confused by some of this then now is an excellent time to contact me or another certified fitness professional and we can sit down and figure this out together. Stuff like this is why I have a job! I’d love to help you get off on the right foot and see measurable success.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll continue to plan by discussing objectives. Objectives are a little different from goals. Objectives are measurable steps that lead to the goal. They’re a vital consideration for succeeding in your resolution.


New Year’s Resolutions Part II: Motivation


In Part I of the New Year’s Resolution series, I said that motivation is crucial for success. Let me say it another way: If you aren’t sufficiently motivated then you will fail at your resolution. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m being realistic. Here’s a discussion on motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

If you say, “I want to look better,” then why? Do you want to be more attractive to others? That means you need validation and a sense of approval. (Dare we say you’re looking for love?) Or maybe your workplace is having some sort of 10-week new year’s weight-loss competition. The winner gets a prize and adulation! These scenarios are examples of extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation may work well in the beginning. It may keep you working out and eating better for a few weeks but it won’t sustain you for the long haul. What happens when it’s February and you don’t look like a cover model? What happens on week 11 of the 10-week weight-loss challenge?

Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation often involves guilt and shame. If someone feels pressure to live up to a certain physique standard, then he or she may feel shame for not living up to that standard. External motivation may make someone feel obligated and burdened to exercise and eat right. Those who are exercising due to extrinsic factors may feel forced to exercise. It’s very difficult to feel positive and optimistic in this situation. No one should live that way.  You must find and cultivate intrinsic and/or identified motivation if you want to win at this thing.

Intrinsic & identified motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from inside you. With intrinsic motivation, there’s a strong emotional bond that connects you to your efforts. For example, many of us simply enjoy lifting weights, running, skiing, cycling, swimming, hiking, etc. It feels good and it’s fun. The activity is the reward. We like the way we feel when we eat right and get enough sleep. The energy and vigor we get from a healthy lifestyle keeps us coming back for more. If you can find a way to enjoy your efforts then you’ve found gold!

Identified motivation is similar to intrinsic motivation. I used this example in Part I of this article where I described a mother’s love and devotion to her child as a motivator to exercise and eat right. She doesn’t love exercise. She’s not motivated by the pure enjoyment of working out. She is absolutely certain though that exercise and healthy eating will not only give her health, energy, and longevity but will also set a good example for her child so he or she will grow strong and healthy too. The mother’s motivation is tied strongly to her values, so the hard work gets done even if the hard work isn’t fun. If your closely held values are linked to a healthy lifestyle, then you’ll  succeed at your resolution.

Motivation killers

  • The resolution is too aggressive. For example:
    • You don’t run but you decide the way to get in shape is to run a marathon. Running is a great way to get fit but perhaps aim for a 5k instead. (Most importantly, you should focus on the race training—the process—not just on the race. More on this later.)
    • You hate mornings and you don’t work out, but now you intend to wake up early every morning before work and go to the gym. How long will that last? Probably best to look to lunch or after work to visit the gym.
    • In order to lose weight you decide to completely eliminate  all your favorite foods (sugar, bread, pasta, booze for example). What happens when you transgress? The guilt monster will come for you! Might be a good idea to reduce some of these foods, not ban them all outright.
  • Unrealistic expectations: This is similar to a resolution being too aggressive. Fitness takes time, persistence, and patience. This is fact. If you expect quick miracles (dropping 20 lbs. in three weeks for example) then you will be disappointed. You will reach your goal and you will do yourself a massive favor if you focus on the process rather than the outcome. Put another way, you should focus on what you can do right now over what you don’t yet have. Trust me on this.
  • Trying to do too much: A wholesale overhaul of your lifestyle can be overwhelming, and that’s understandable. It’s absolutely fine to start with one thing. Maybe you’re ready to start exercising but not yet ready to change your diet, or vice versa. Maybe you’re ready to start walking but not yet ready to join a gym. You can and should take one step at a time.Taking on too much and failing will derail you. Succeeding at one small thing will keep you motivated.
  • No support system: If you’re surrounded with people who hate exercise, only want to go to happy hour, eat poison, and play video games then you’re going to have a tough time of it. Do you have friends, coworkers, and/or family members who are on board with your efforts? Enlist their help to hold you accountable and give you encouragement for your goals. Also, hiring a trainer (like me!) can be a valuable investment.
  • The wrong environment: As it relates to working out, if you don’t like the place then you won’t go. While gyms are simply buildings filled with workout equipment, they may be aimed at very different clientele. When looking at gyms, you should visit several. Get a feel for each place. Do you feel comfortable there? Does the staff seem friendly? Maybe you don’t need to be in a gym at all. Perhaps the outdoors, a pool, a dance studio, yoga studio or some other non-gym environment is best for you.
  • Comparing yourself to others: Someone will always be leaner, stronger, faster, wealthier, funnier—something-er than you. Looking for “fitspiration” from photoshopped Internet fitness celebrities is not a healthy endeavor. An article from the National Academy of Sports Medicine titled
    Social Media and Body Image: #Fitspiration at Its Worst says,

“Social media messages aren’t typically backed by science. And self-taught fitness gurus are not health professionals. Unfortunately, seemingly innocent messages can do unintended damage including bad mood and body dissatisfaction (Brown & Tiggemann 2016). You’ll find militaristic posts (“You can have results or excuses, not both.”) that grab attention but also breed inadequacy. A more compassionate post might read: “You can totally improve your health and fitness and occasionally make excuses not to work out every single day. That’s fine and normal” (Van Hare 2016).”

Find and feed your motivation

We’d love to believe that one word, one phrase, one picture of George S. Patton standing on top of a Sherman tank would light off a magic nuclear motivation bomb inside us. That’s what happens in the movies doesn’t it? What do you think? Don’t believe everything you see in movies. Motivation doesn’t always drop out of the sky like an angel. A successful resolution won’t be built on one uplifting saying that fits on a t-shirt or Facebook meme. If you’re not already intrinsically motivated to live a healthy lifestyle then understand that you will need to put in a little bit of work before the motivation engine gets going. Here’s a way to start.

Take a moment and write down your “whys.” Here are some questions you should think on:

  1. Why do you want to be in shape? Why is it important?
  2. Why now? Why didn’t you start this journey three months ago?
  3. What event has sparked your fitness resolution? A health scare? You saw yourself in the mirror or saw your weight on a scale? A friend or family member decided to get in shape and inspired you?
  4. If your answer is, “I want to look better,” then WHY???? Just looking better by itself isn’t enough.The real question is what/how do you want to feel? You’re looking to change the way you perceive yourself. Get under the hood and explore those feelings.
  5. Fast forward several months or a year. You’ve achieved your resolution. What does that look like? How do you feel as a result? Describe yourself and your feelings in detail.

Why would I suggest this exercise? Because it’s of paramount importance! You need to know this stuff. You need to feel it. To achieve your fantastic goal you need significant emotional buy-in. The reason(s) behind your resolution need to be clearly defined and crystalized in your mind. This project is going to take a lot of work. It’s not going to be easy. Don’t take it lightly.

(A note to your conscience: If you can’t find the time to write down your “whys” then it’s a clear indication that you’re not ready for this resolution. Truth.)

Next, I’ll discuss planing.

A New Year’s Resolution Part I: Why?


Unless you first change your mind, don’t expect your health goals to materialize. As the saying goes, it’s not the horse that draws the cart, it’s the oats. It’s not the gym, Pilates class or diet that will change you – it’s your mind.

That brilliant statement comes from an article in U.S. News & World Report. The same article says, “By the second week of February, some 80 percent of those resolution-ers are back home with a new kind of remorse staring back at them in the mirror – the remorse of disappointment. ”

That has been and soon will be the fate of hordes of Americans as they embark on a myriad of ill-fated health & fitness voyages. I believe failure comes down to two vital issues: motivation and planning.


This is your “why.” It’s emotional investment. With motivation you have a sense of purpose. Motivation is the be-all-end-all for success at anything. (Last year about this time I wrote about motivation, and I’ll expand on the concept in the next post.) Your goal must be important to you on an emotional level. A true sense of purpose comes with emotional investment. One example:

An intermediate runner wants to run his first marathon. He’s spent time running, enjoys it, and has progressed from a raw beginner to a more serious athlete. The marathon represents to him a major sense of achievement. He knows it will take a lot of hard work and if he finishes then he’ll feel a powerful sense of accomplishment. He’s motivated by that sense of accomplishment. Accomplishment gives him a deep sense of satisfaction. Accomplishment sustains him on an emotional and spiritual level. The marathon is not just an arbitrary goal to him. This is important too: the goal of running a marathon is both challenging and realistic.

Another example:

A new mom isn’t as fit as she used to be, and she knows it. She recognizes several things: First, she’s going to need a lot of energy to keep up with the new kiddo. She knows exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep habits will help. Second, she wants the child to be healthy so she decides to set a good example by living a healthy lifestyle. Next, she wants to live a long life so she can spend as much time as possible with this wonderful little person.

Her profound love for her child is her motive to live a healthy life. She’ll do anything for the kid! She can’t lose! Success is the only option. Even if she’s not a serious athlete and she may not be in love with exercise, the love she feels for this new baby has ignited a tremendous sense of purpose in her, so her motivation is sky-high.

Hard work is made feasible through motivation. Or as Matt Fitzgerald puts it in his book Diet Cults, “Motivation allows for the application of willpower.”

For good or ill, the truth is that if you aren’t sufficiently motivated, if you don’t have a strong emotional bond to your resolution—if you don’t have a purpose—then it won’t happen.

The plan

No significant accomplishment happens without a plan. Saving for retirement, building a house, writing a novel, attaining a degree, running a successful business all require a plan. Your resolution is no different. How many days will you exercise? Will you lift weights? (You should!) If so, which exercises will you select? Do you know how to lift properly? When will you add weight to the bar? What about cardio? What about rest days? You need those! Have you thought about nutrition? You can’t lose weight without it. What changes will you make to your diet? Should you go on “A Diet?” (Probably not. Everyone “used to be on a diet.” Most of them aren’t sustainable.) Have you thought about adequate sleep?

Far too many smart, well-intentioned souls enter a gym with no plan and no knowledge of how to exercise properly. Stumbling through the dark and stabbing blindly at your goal is inefficient at best and a sure ticket to failure at worse. Bad planning or no planning can kill your motivation. Do you have a plan? If not, then get one.

*****Please note: A generic, cookie-cutter plan made for someone else’s needs isn’t your best option. It’s best to have a plan custom-made to your needs, skills, and preferences. That’s why I have a job!

I hope I’ve convinced you that in order to attain your worthwhile New Year’s Resolution you must think hard about it. It won’t happen through luck or chance. I’ll expand on motivation and planning in subsequent posts.



Good Words from Steve Magness at Science of Running


“Which brings me to the point.  You can’t force things. In life or in running. You’ve got to let them come to you.”

– Steve Magness, Science of Running

I’m a big fan of Steve Magness’ work. He is both a researcher and an in-the-trenches running coach. His site the Science of Running is full of excellent information. His book (also titled The Science of Running) is a must-read for running coaches and any serious runner.

Under pressure

I greatly appreciate his latest blog post titled New Year’s Reflections and Anti-resolutions. He discusses resolutions and the high failure rate experienced by those undertaking them. He observes that a lot of us feel forced to make decisions and when that happens, we make bad decisions. When we feel cornered and pressured to accomplish or achieve something then we often don’t get the results we want. He says:

“Today, with social media, an ability to instantly compare ourselves to any of our peers, and a high premium placed on accomplishments and ‘success’, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we have to do something. We have to accomplish some goal, take some job, marry some guy or gal, all on some set time line or else we’re perceived as a failure. Society and culture put us in a place of ‘forcing’ us to do something.”

I can definitely relate to this scenario. I sometimes feel pressure when I observe the accomplishments of others in my field, or when I look at the athletic feats of men my age. It’s easy to feel like I don’t measure up, that I’m not “enough.” Later in this post I’ll give some evidence that by letting my mind wander to others’ achievements, I’m probably undermining my contentment in life.

Here is more from Magness:

“Which brings me to the point.  You can’t force things. In life or in running. You’ve got to let them come to you.

In running, big breakthroughs occur when you let them happen. You’re more relaxed while still driven and focused during the race versus tense and pressing in which you are trying to force a new Personal Record.  Ask any sprint coach if people run faster relaxed versus tensed and you will find your answer to why forcing a race does not work.”

There is power in being mentally engaged in the here-and-now rather than longing for the end product. Most of us have probably experienced this when we try really hard at almost anything. From a golf swing to trying to impress a date or a boss, if we bear down too much and try to force it we rarely get the results we want.


In contrast to forcing things, we would ideally relax and perhaps just react to events. Psychology researcher Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this the “flow” state:

“These are moments in which your mind becomes entirely absorbed in the activity so that you ‘forget yourself’ and begin to act effortlessly, with a heightened sense of awareness of the here and now (athletes often describe this as ‘being in the zone’). You may be surprised to learn, however, that in recent years this experience has become the focus of much research by positive psychologists. Indeed, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has even given it a name for an objective condition — ‘flow.'”

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience flow on the ski slopes–though not nearly as often as I’d like! Everything works. I turn effortlessly. I’m in total control. I move but I’m not aware of how it’s happening. I often feel this way when I trail run, mountain bike, lift heavy weights or when reading a great book. Life is best when I feel this “flow.”

Process, oh how I love the!

I recall conversations about training I’ve had with a friend. Much of his life is devoted to triathlon specifically and intense physical activity generally. We both love physical exertion of a sometimes extreme degree, and we both agree that we dearly love the process. Lifting weights. A track workout. A long bike ride. Learning a new exercise. We love every step towards the end goal. We love the beginning when we feel good, the middle when we’re tired and questioning why we’re doing it, and the glorious end when we feel a sense of accomplishment. In loving the process the end goal comes to us.

Magness speaks to loving the process:

“The key though is not simply thinking ‘it will all work out’ but instead acknowledging the first portion which is if you work hard at things you enjoy, love the process, then eventually things will work out. Perhaps not always in the direction you want them to, but for the most part they will.”

(Additionally, it’s during intense training that we are wholly focused on the task at hand. More on that in a moment.)

Chasing a mirage

I like Magness’s analysis of being process-focused rather than outcome-focused:

“We get caught in the rat race of trying to chase success, satisfaction, happiness, and outcomes. The reality is that this is simply an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep us engaged. Researchers have found that it’s not the actual reward that gives us the most bang for our buck in terms of the wonderful feel good hormone of Dopamine. Instead, it’s the chase that gives us the huge bump in Dopamine.

We’re designed for the process, but we focus on the outcome. It’s this nice little trick of mother nature that makes us follow through and get things done. It’s why we suffer from this nice fallacy of ‘If only I had X, I’d be happy/satisfied/whatever…’ We then chase X, feeling pretty good about ourselves as we chase it, but then are torn down by the feeling of discontentment when we finally reached our goal and while the payoff was nice, it most certainly doesn’t meet pre-conceived expectations. So we are left with the inevitable ‘so what now…’ that predictably follows.”

He says, “If I only had X, I’d be happy…” I believe a lot of us go through life this way, basing our contentment on external things: a race outcome, a flat stomach, a girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse, money, a house in a certain neighborhood… In other words, we’re looking for the perfect circumstance when everything goes right–then we’ll be happy!

In this scenario, we’re looking outside ourselves for contentment, fulfillment and happiness. We’re looking for affirmation of ourselves via things that we may not control. Interestingly, when we achieve one of these things (say hitting a PR in the deadlift, taking 2 minutes off your marathon time or making X amount of money) have we actually found happiness? Maybe…. But often we’ve simply obtained one of these things and we’re not actually any happier, so we keep looking for the next magic thing that will fulfill us.

(In my experience, by chasing happiness that we believe lives outside us, we’re really chasing a mirage. The external thing that we covet so much rarely if ever lives up to expectations.)

Happiness through focus

A 2010 study called A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind seems relevant to some of these ideas. The research was done by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University. Here are some paragraphs that deserve consideration, starting with what I think is the big picture on wandering minds:

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

When are we happiest?

Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

(Hey! Wow! Exercise!)


“Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.”

What am I saying?

I believe that I’m advocating for finding activities that demand our full mental engagement. The phrase “live in the moment,” seems appropriate (even though it sounds cliche and a bit too cute for my taste–it happens to encapsulate a great concept!) There is a subtle, sublime state of mind that can’t be found by multi-tasking (possibly the ultimate non-focused happiness killer) or keeping up with the Joneses. Further, the focus on the process keeps us “in the moment.” If we can find a love for the process–rather than a fixation on the outcome–then I believe we can find a healthy dose of happiness.

How’s Your New Year’s Resolution?


It’s exactly 45 days into 2011.  Do you have a New Year’s Resolution?  If so, what is it?  Is it specific or vague?  Does it involve measurable steps tied to a timetable, or is “just something you’re working on?”  Do you feel you’re moving effectively towards your resolution  or is it sort of sliding sideways and backwards out of your thinking?

Just wondering….

New Year’s Resolutions


“This year I will… (insert whatever gargantuan tried-for-before-but-never-accomplished miracle you wish; for our purposes here we’ll say:) get in shape.”
thousands of new gym members

Now’s the time of year when many a well meaning American joins a gym, vows to give up their favorite food, start eating their least favorite food, exercise like Hercules, change their physique… and generally repeat a pattern they’ve performed before–which includes struggle and failure.  Some time around the end of March the pattern will look the same as last year: Minimal weight lost.  Resolution forgotten.  (The good news for me is that a lot of these fine folks will enlist my assistance in achieving their goals.  My genuine hope is that I help create new exercise lovers.)  Is there a way to actually realize our once and future fitness goals?  Very likely.

Your Brain Doesn’t Have a New Year’s Resolution

First, why do we fail at these goals in the first place?  A recent article in the Miami Herald, New Year’s resolutions?  Brain can sabotage success discuss the role of the brain in this process.  Essentially the immediate reward often outweighs the long-term results we’re seeking.  Fudge tastes good now.  Getting strong and lean takes weeks.  Put another way: It’s the dopamine stupid.

Dopamine is released during rewarding experiences.  Sex, tasty food, various drugs, fun times all release dopamine.  We tend to form habits around the activities that release dopamine.  These habits and rituals become very hard wired in our brain.  Examples include a smoke after a meal, snacks in front of the TV, junk food at the movie.  Further, we like our dopamine now not later.  Thus that tasty dessert provides the deeply wired payoff we want.  For someone new to exercise or who’s had negative experiences with exercise, there’s not much dopamine to be found at the gym.

Survival, the Brain & Energy Expenditure

Very nearly every feeling, thought, drive and signal in our bodies is there for our survival.  Neurological activity is calorically expensive.  (That is, we use a lot of calories to perform brain functions such as learning new skills.  Exercise and new eating habits are definitely skills).  If we use up too many calories then we’ll die.  Our brain knows all this, and here lies the foundation of thwarted resolutions.

Drastic changes such as those often attempted by Resolutioners makes the brain say, “Whoa!  We need to avoid all this new hard work or we might DIE!”  Plus there’s no dopamine involved in all this new activity–but the stress of all this change makes us seek out our beloved dopamine/fudge/ice cream/onion rings/etc.  The result is we have a really hard time sticking to our big goal.  So how do we proceed?

Threat Modulation for a Successful Resolution

We talk extensively in Z-Health about threats and threat modulation.  We learn that small, incremental changes are far less threatening to our survival instincts than drastic changes.  We tend to stick with small changes better than big changes.  With regard to our fitness resolutions, we have several considerations in this direction.

First we might consider diet and exercise.  These are two different things.  Someone may well be ready to start exercising but not at all ready to make dietary changes or vice versa.  If we try to change both aspects then we will find it tough going.  Therefore we should start making changes where success is most likely to occur.

Second, within either diet or exercise, we should consider what’s ideal versus what’s truly realistic.  If your favorite food is doughnuts for breakfast then yes, giving them up completely is a great idea.  But in reality it likely isn’t happening.  But can we get someone to go from eating doughnuts for breakfast five days a week to only four days a week?  Maybe.  Or can this person go from three doughnuts a day to three doughnuts every other day–and only two doughnuts on the other days?  Sounds reasonable.  These are rather small steps–but they are steps forward.

Similarly, many Resolutioners come into the gym telling themselves and anyone who’ll listen that they’re ready to work extremely hard every day of the week.

“I’m not fooling around this time!  I want to see results–and I want to see them fast!  I’ll do Whatever It Takes!”

Yet typically these folks aren’t undertaking any exercise at all.  So going from no exercise to a superhuman level of exercise is again a threat to our survival with no dopamine payoff.  Great way to sabotage the resolution.  It’s far more realistic for someone to go from no days per week of exercise to two days.  Then a couple of weeks later add another day.

(Oddly enough, a trainer has a powerful tool to employ when someone talks about undertaking unrealistically lofty s actions: We say, “Nope.  Don’t do that.”  They’ll likely start arguing for their own beneficial change.  It works off a phenomenon called the righting reflex.  Think of a parent giving a kid orders.  “Do this.”  “Don’t do that.”  He or she will resist whatever they’re told to do or not do.  Tell someone what they already know such as “You need to start exercising,” and they’ll likely give you reasons why they can’t or won’t. In contrast, tell a someone NOT to exercise too much  and suddenly he or she will start agitating to exercise.  They’ll argue against their own worst habits.)

Tortoise vs. the Hare

So again, in the ideal situation, someone who eats garbage and never exercises should some day eat well and exercise regularly.  In order to get to this new lifestyle though, gradual, non-threatening change is the way to go if we want to achieve our fitness goal at all, much less maintain our new sleek physique.

So we might consider only changing one part of this equation.  We might create a small, very achievable goal such as dedicating one hour, twice a week to exercising with a trainer for four weeks.  If the clieint achieves this goal then they’ve found success and success begets success.  (Very likely they’re already feeling better from this moderate level of exercise and they want to feel even better.)  We might then add one day of exercise and also consider dedicating one day per week to healthy eating. Psychologically, if the client experiences success–even on a small scale–we get that dopamine payoff and suddenly they’ve developed an exercise habit.  We’re now well on the road to realizing our big goal.

Deliberate Action

Fitness goals don’t make themselves happen.  Any number of lofty goals can be achieved but there must be a mindful effort toward these goals.  If our current habits got us into the shape we’re in now, then new actions are required in order to get us into better shape.  Small changes are ideal–but there must be changes!

I typically tell clients that they have many choices throughout the day of what to eat and whether or not to exercise.  At some point they must make at least one healthier decision.  If all they can do is make ONE healthier choice today then they’ve moved forward.  Maybe they make one single better choice every other day.  Great!  This is progress.

Success is a guarantee if healthy new habits replace old unhealthy habits.  The body has no choice but to adapt to the consumption of healthy food and the execution of hard physical work.  Guaranteed.  The changes we want will not happen as fast as we want them to–they never do!–but the New Year’s Resolution can become reality if it’s pursued correctly.