Science-backed methods to stick to your fitness goals

As we reach January’s mid-way point, your fitness goals and plans are being met with the reality of daily life. Don’t rely on outdated motivation methods or try to wing it. Science has the most credible ways of making your health and fitness plans last.

What science says about achieving goals

It’s human nature to use new starts to kickstart big goals. So why do an estimated 2/3 of people give up on their resolutions before January is over?

We already know that motivation and willpower are fickle partners in the goal-setting game. Keeping them “topped up” demands a lot of emotional energy, often for little or no immediate reward. And when stress, tiredness and overwhelm enter the mix, they can disappear altogether.

What’s more important, habits or routine?

Revisit your understanding of daily habits vs your regular routine. They are not the same thing. Habits are repetitions that we do with little or no thought. Routine is a series of behaviours you intentionally repeat.

This distinction is significant, because the best way to achieve any fitness or weight loss goal is to adopt relevant habits. But you will need to make them part of your (intentional) routine before they become second-nature. This knowledge will make it easier to stay patient and self-disciplined as you stay consistent with your new routines in 2022.

How to use habit stacking

Using existing habits as a trigger for new behaviours is a great way to build a new routine. This idea of habit stacking has been backed by behavioural science for decades, but the 2012 paper “Making Health Habitual”, published in the British Journal of General Practice, sets it out nicely. (1)

Habit-formation begins at the initiation phase, and automaticity develops in the learning phase. Make it easier for your brain to adapt by using a small and simple existing habit as the trigger.

For example: get your gym bag ready whilst your morning coffee is percolating, stretch for 10 minutes after brushing your teeth, or go for a walk with your partner after dinner.

Make the most of your environment

In 2020, researchers at the University of Southern California’s Habit Lab found that habits are formed most strongly when we associate them with a specific location. (2) How can you use this information to be more successful with your fitness goals this year?

Perhaps you can alter your route to the station to break your morning croissant habit? Or go upstairs after dinner, instead of into the living room, so you can develop a new reading habit in place of TV and snacks?

If you want to start training at home, set up a dedicated workout area that you will associate with the habits and feelings of completing an exercise session.

Work “towards” not “away from” your goal

One of the most interesting recent studies into maintaining resolutions is a peer reviewed research article published in December 2020 called “A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals”. (3) This paper set out to examine the “fresh start effect” of New Year’s Resolutions and why some succeed whilst others fail. I particularly like this paper because it looks at health and fitness goals, not academic ones.

At the one-year mark, people with “approach oriented” goals were more likely to have stuck with and succeeded with their plans than those with “avoidance” goals (58.9% vs 47.1%)

The takeaway? Make your goals positive, focusing on adding new habits rather than removing or avoiding existing behaviours. Add vegetables instead of focusing on not eating crisps. Add a workout instead of vowing to stop watching Netflix every night. Make sure your goal setting adds value to your life instead of making it smaller.

Want to achieve your own health and body transformation this year? My coaching style helps you make new habits into life-long routines. Drop me a line to chat about it.

Coach Joseph Webb.

‘The number one rated Personal Trainer In Henley and Oxfordshire’

References used in todays blog:

1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/

2) https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/11/career-lab-habits

3) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0234097

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