How to Get a New Year’s Resolution Right

Alex McMillan

Alex McMillan

Head Trainer, Mid Age Man

Why do New Year's Resolutions all too often fail? Because we go about them all wrong. You get to the top of the mountain, whatever your fitness goal, one step at a time.

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions?

And if so, how are they going?!

The actual change from December to January is just one day, of course. A swipe of the digital month. I guess the old-school taxi drivers who have those paper calendars on the dash, where you rip off each day as it passes, have to get a new pad.

Just a new day. But it does make sense to re-evaluate how things are going at this stage. To set some priorities, outline changes, and establish goals.

And that’s where those resolutions come in. The problem is that we go about them all wrong.

It’s kind of quaint to have them. The cool thing, I guess, is to make your resolution “I’m not going to make any resolutions.” Or you can map out lofty intentions whereby you’ll end up with a whole new you. “This time, it’s going to be different.”

Fitness often factors in. I certainly decided to make some changes in December 2016, albeit the start of that month, when I found myself in hospital doing alcohol detox, and realized something had to give.

What I’ve learned since then, in successfully making a series of changes, that appear to have stuck (13 months on, fingers crossed, touch wood it keeps going, and so on …) is a very simple truth.

You have to focus on the process, not the result.

This is where we get our resolutions all wrong. We decide, “I’m going to lose 30 lbs,” or “I’m going to quit smoking,” or simply “I’m going to get in shape.”

Then we’re surprised, or to be honest probably not even that surprised, when it doesn’t happen. That’s why people don’t like resolutions. They don’t work.

But they can. If you do them right.

The new year is a good time to set targets, but it’s the process not the result that matters.

The problem with these sorts of resolutions is that they target the end game, without thinking about how we’re going to get there.

Make the process your resolution, and you will make those changes. Focus on those ideal results, and you will not.

Rather than saying “I’m going to lose 30 lbs,” which can certainly be your goal, instead make your resolution “I’m going to work out for 15 minutes every day.” Then pick the individual exercises you’re going to do. Then do them.

Instead of saying “I’m going to give up smoking,” say “I’m not going to have a cigarette now.” Maybe you can stretch that up to a day. Meantime, figure out something to do with your hands, and get some nicotine gum!

Target an incremental change, and focus on the process. Think about how you are going to get to the destination, rather than the destination itself.

I liken it to playing a tennis match. It’s easy to say, “I should easily beat this guy,” or “I really want to win this one,” to focus on the end result.

But the truth is you still have to win the match point by point. You can have a strategy about how you are going to win the match, don’t get me wrong. You may even have to adapt mid-match if things aren’t going the way you want. You can react, learn lessons and respond.

But the only thing that really matters, if you want to win the game, is the next point. Every point is match point.

That’s all you can control. Focus on winning that point, and you’ll set yourself up with an excellent chance of winning the match.

It’s a truism that you hear soccer coaches spout all the time. Pep Guardiola keeps getting asked now whether the Manchester City team he manages is going to win “The Quadruple,” of the Premier League, F.A. Cup, League Cup, and Champion’s League.

What does he say? “We have to win the next match, that’s all that matters.” He focuses on beating Liverpool, next on their schedule, and he does that literally by picking one by one the individual players he thinks can do that, and working out how, individually and collectively, they are going to score more goals than the Reds do. Then he trains them to do that, I’m sure with little arrows and pieces on one of those whiteboards.

Then he focuses on setting up the individual teammates in his formation, and working on their corner routines, individual passes, and individual movements, so that they can beat Bristol City in the League Cup second leg. He won the first 2-1, but he still knows that job isn’t done. Then he focuses on the individuals and their individual movements so they can beat West Brom.

He doesn’t care about The Quadruple. That comes at the end of the season when he can look back and say, “Wow!”

This is how your fitness resolutions should work, too. Pick whatever exercise it is that you like, and determine that (if you want to get in better shape) you are going to do it at regular intervals, more than you are doing now. Keep track, set a short manageable amount, and keep doing it.

I would recommend doing 15 minutes of exercise every day. If you can’t manage even that, do the Scientific 7-Minute Workout. You can do it in an office or a hotel room. I like that bite-size concept of a high-intensity workout so much, I put it on my business cards.

At the start of my fitness push, I had no firm long-term goals or lofty ideals. I just thought, “I’m going to go to the gym every day and do these two abdominal machines,” because I was thought it would make my beer gut get smaller.

I committed to doing that short workout every day, and I did it (give or take a day!). Every other day should be sufficient. Over time, I added on a machine here and there, and soon I had a circuit training program going.

And over the course of 2-1/2 months, I lost 30 lbs. I was staggered! People couldn’t recognize me, and I had to buy all-new clothes.

I’m pretty sure I would NOT have made it if my target had been to lose 30 lbs. That’s like saying you’re going to win the tennis match. My daily workout of two specific machines, which I set at specific weights that I increased over time, got me there. Those were the individual “points.”

With fitness, focus on the single steps that get you where you want to go, not the destination.

I recently passed 13 months of being on the wagon. I don’t think people have to give up drinking to stay fit, I have no moral qualms with even heavy drinking. It was just an easier lifestyle choice for me. I have an addictive personality, and if I do something, I REALLY do it.

At that time in the hospital, I thought it was time for a break. But if you had told me 13 months ago that I would not have had a drink since then, I would have thought you were crazy. My friends and family would have laughed. It seemed impossible.

And it is, if you think about it that way. I DID have an initial goal in this case, to go one month without drinking. But the day that month ended, I happened to have taken a red-eye flight back from Japan, stocked up with sake to celebrate, and started to work, dead tired. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and didn’t feel like having a drink.

The next day, I woke up, and said “You know what, you didn’t have a drink yesterday. Why not skip one today?”

I don’t think of myself as having given up drinking. I tell myself I have “suspended” drinking. Actually, I’m pretty sure I will go back to having an occasional drink now and then … but I’m not going to today.

You can apply this to any challenge you want to tackle. In my sports-nutrition coaching, they give the example of an American who drinks 12 Cokes a day. And there are plenty! As a nutrition coach, I’m most likely to succeed if I ask this client whether they can cut that back to 8 Cokes per day. You’re not giving it up! Then maybe 6 per day. Incremental, specific steps.

That’s my best advice on how to make manageable resolutions that lead to real results. Take on the process. Enjoy the process, if you can. Fitness should be fun!

Think about going on a long hike. I completed the Trailwalker here in Hong Kong one year. It’s a hike of 100 kilometers right the whole way across the territory. The race started out as a training exercise for the fearless Gurkha soldiers, who are from high up in the Nepalese mountains, and who literally have high-altitude training in their veins.

It’s a beautiful hike along the MacLehose Trail, named for a former governor, 10 sections from Sai Kung in the east to Tuen Mun in the west. And it takes you up many of Hong Kong’s highest hills, including the very biggest, Tai Mo Shan. Needle Hill, straight up and down, is a thorny challenge. Sometimes it doesn’t look all that beautiful, with yet another mountain to climb.

It was always a mistake to look ahead and think, “I just have to get up to that peak.” You’d inevitably get there and find an even bigger peak ahead of you! This series of false crests can render you crestfallen, quite easily.

It’s better to take the trail step by step. Actually it was easier to tackle the hike in the middle of the night, because you can’t see much of anything beyond the beam of your headlamp lighting the way to the step ahead. Step, step, step all through the night. At daybreak, we looked back, and thought “Wow!”

That’s how you have to tackle your path to fitness. One step at a time. Make your resolution to take a small step, regularly, and keep on going. Step, step, step.

Time to take the first one?

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About the author

Alex McMillan

Alex McMillan

Head trainer at Mid Age Man. Alex believes there are four pillars to being healthy: physical fitness, sensible nutrition, mental strength, and wellbeing for your body and soul.

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