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How to Stick to a Fitness Program

Recognizing Roadblocks continued...

"Until people find out that they have these kinds of problems, anything that they do to try to get themselves motivated is, in general, going to be for naught," says Gerrish.

For instance, people who resolve to work out at 5 a.m. daily may have a slim chance of success if they do not realize they have low-grade depression, seasonal affective disorder, or a hormone imbalance that could make getting up early an extremely difficult task.

Once people figure out obstacles to change, they can determine how to address them. To treat a medical or biochemical problem, Gerrish recommends a visit to a doctor. Psychological trouble could be managed with the help of a mental health professional.

"The likelihood of success will be much greater if you address obstacles right upfront," says Gerrish.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

John C. Norcross, PhD, co-author of Changing for Good, conducted small scientific studies on New Year's resolutions and found successful resolvers behaved in a similar manner.

"For the most part, it's what you do, not who you are [that effects change]," says Norcross, noting that personal characteristics, types of problems, and levels of motivation make little difference. "Behavior is what matters."

According to Norcross' research, successful resolvers did the following:

  • Made a New Year's resolution. Norcross found resolvers were 10 times more likely to make a change at six months, compared to contemplators. The latter were people who had similar problems and similar desire for change, but who did not make an effort to make a resolution.
  • Armed themselves with realistic confidence to make a change. Their confidence did not necessarily come from self-esteem, but from a readiness to make a particular transformation.
  • Stayed positive. Successful resolvers stumbled from their resolutions just as much as the unsuccessful in early January. The difference was in what they did when they fell. Successful people said the slip helped them refocus and reconnect with their goal. The unsuccessful saw the fall as evidence they couldn't achieve their objective.
  • Prepared a healthy alternative to the problem behavior. The triumphant did not just promise to stop overeating. They managed their diet. They did not just vow to be less of a couch potato. They exercised.
  • Reinforced themselves. Successful resolvers strengthened their resolve somehow. No specific technique stood out as an effective strategy, says Norcross, emphasizing it was the act of reinforcement, not the method, that mattered in victory. As an example, some people rewarded themselves for meeting certain objectives. Others complimented themselves, regularly monitored their behavior, or made a pact with someone. "Everyone needs a slightly different reinforcement," says Norcross.
  • Fortified themselves with social support. Although Norcross found social support didn't matter as much in the beginning of a transformation, he found it indispensable for successful people beyond the first month, regardless of their source of support. "What's important is that everyone gets some support, not that they go to a support group, or that they have to do it with someone in particular, or that they make a resolution with someone at work," says Norcross.

Norcross steers clear of giving specific strategies on what could help people with their resolutions. He says research shows it's best to give people broad strategies and methods and let them figure out the particulars. What works for one person may not work out for another. Plus, there are variances as to what's available and what's realistic for each individual.

For instance, chocolate might be a good reward for someone, but not for the person who is allergic to it. Writing a to-do list may help someone focus and be ready for change, but the task might overwhelm somebody else.

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