Last January, I resolved to lose my belly fat. Although my frame is thin, the fat around my waistline really bothers me. I went to the gym. I power walked. I did sit ups every now and then. But what I didn't do was the research to figure out how to lose belly fat, nor did I have a consistent routine. I just did what was convenient.
This morning, I read an article in Time Magazine that is going to change the way I approach my resolution this year. In fact, it made me realize I can't blame my struggles to achieve work life balance as the reason I fall short on my making my resolution stick.
Art Markman, a Professor of Psychology and Marketing at The University of Texas, says the reason our resolutions fail is that we don’t put in enough effort to allow them to succeed. The things we resolve to change in our lives are generally the systematic failures in our lives.
For instance, he says, "people often resolve to get in shape, stop smoking or drinking, or to get more serious about establishing a career. But even if you want to make a change, it is not easy to make systematic changes in your behavior. We have habits that get in the way of achieving our goals."
So according to Markman, what I need to differently in 2016 is focus on positive goals rather than negative ones. A positive goal is an action you want to perform; a negative goal is something you want to stop doing.
I want to take positive action to lose my belly fat.
Markman says I need to make a realistic plan. For example, he says, "If you want to start going to the gym more often, it is not enough to say that you want to go to the gym three times a week. Where is that going to fit on your calendar? You need to pick specific days and add that to your agenda. Unless you get specific, you will have a hard time identifying all of the obstacles that will get in your way. Put the gym on your calendar Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. That is specific enough to give you a fighting chance of succeeding," he says.
This year, I am going to schedule my workouts rather than fitting them in whenever, wherever.
But that's just the first step I need to take.
The next step is to make changes to my environment. Markman says a big key to behavior change is to make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard. Take smoking for example. He points out that during the past 50 years, the successful public health campaign to get people to stop smoking has succeeded in part because it is now virtually impossible to smoke in public buildings. As a result, people in the workplace or in restaurants or bars can’t just pick up a cigarette and light it. They have to walk outside. The undesirable behavior has been made hard to do.
For me, that means taking all the tempting junk food out of my home office and replace it with healthy snacks.
Next, Markman says I need to be kind to myself. Real behavior change is hard. "There are days when you will succeed and others when you will fail. On the days you fail, treat them as an opportunity to learn about what to do in the future rather than as a reason to give up."
Along with Markman, I am listening to advice from blogger Penelope Trunk. She says Resolutions work best if you pick just one. And the best resolutions are those you can write in a simple way. For example: If you say, “I need to go to the gym more,” just forget it. It'll never happen. You need to break down the steps to defined tasks. You should say, “I need to drive to the gym at 4:30 every day and I cannot drive out of the parking lot until 5:30.”
Penelope also provides this good news: Your New Year's resolution really takes only three weeks to complete. Because if you force yourself to change your behavior for three weeks, your brain will start to develop more dopamine in response to the behavior that you are trying to change
So, I am being really specific about when I go to the gym. What I will do there and what I will add and take out of my diet.
Lastly, I am listening to advice from Austin Frakt, a health economist.
He says, "Contemplating a resolution, I start with two questions: “Why don’t I do this already?” and “Why do I feel the need to do this now?”
The first question is practical; it seeks the barrier. The second is emotional; it seeks the motivation necessary to sustain an effort to remove the barrier.Carrying around belly fat makes me feeling unhealthy and that makes me unhappy. That is my emotional motivation to change. The barrier is I don't know what exactly will make a difference in eliminating belly fat and I don't have a specific plan of attack.
Here is how I am going to make my resolution happen: I'm doing research, talking to experts and understanding exactly what I need to do to reduce belly fat. Then, I'm making a three week plan and being very specific about how I will follow it. If I fall short, I am going to remind myself why I made the resolution and get right back on schedule.
What is your resolution and your plan of attack? Have you set yourself up correctly to make your resolution stick?