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January 1st Resolutions Are a Scam

If you actually want to get in shape, waiting till New Year’s Day is a recipe for disaster

When it comes to working out, we’re not all strongmen like Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (aka the Mountain from Game of Thrones). In fact, many of us could go our entire lives and still have no clue how a lat pull-down differs from an incline bench. Which is to say, there’s no shame in not knowing your way around a gym, or how to start the process of getting in shape. Plus, that’s what we’re here for — to make sure that when you’re in the gym, you at least never have to sweat the small stuff.

My brother does this thing a lot with his fitness where it seems like every time I see him he’ll say something like, “Diet starts Monday,” before doing or devouring something unhealthy. I just saw him for Christmas, and he was talking about how he’s going to start working out on January 1st. He then proceeded to sit on the couch all day. How can I explain to him that that’s a terrible way to lose weight?
This is what doctors and trainers refer to as “kicking the can down the road,” clinically speaking. Not only does it rarely work, it can actually leave you worse off than if you never dieted at all. That’s because, when we set dates to start getting in shape or to start dieting (hello, New Year’s resolutions!), we set a trap for ourselves, in ways that are both mentally and physically taxing.

The first big problem is that, in our brains, we often pretend like we’ve already won — that is, we’ve turned over whatever new leaf needs turning, succeeded and come out the other side a better, fitter person — and thus, we are worthy of reward. 

That’s why, so often, you’ll see yourself or others go big on your/their vices in the run-up to January 1st or whatever imaginary start date you’ve/they’ve set. Kicking off your diet on Monday? Let’s have a whole pizza to celebrate! Starting your hard-ass strength training in the New Year? No need to work out for all of December! 

You see why this is such a trap, right?

Planning on getting in shape, cheating your ass off in the interim and then (odds are) coming up with a new excuse to kick the can down the road even longer into the future is a recipe for disaster. Not only are you not changing your lifestyle, you’re likely falling down on the job harder than if you never set a fake goal in the first place.

If you really want to be successful, you need to start small — and IMMEDIATELY. No waiting, no crossing off days on your calendar. “Sometimes when you put big expectations to drastically change your routine or eating habits on one date, the build-up can feel like a lot of pressure,” says Kristin Kurihara, director of athleisure brand Carbon38’s Global Ambassador Program. “So when I’m trying to motivate people to get off the couch and into the gym, I tell them that it doesn’t have to start with one, massive change — it can, and should, start with small changes, like going for almond milk instead of half-and-half in your coffee. That way, you warm up to your new lifestyle, instead of deciding on January 1st to start working out an hour a day, five days a week, and failing miserably when you realize that’s a lot harder than it sounds.”

If you find yourself saying “Oh, it’s cool, I’ll eat this double-cheeseburger now, because tomorrow I’m starting my couch-to-marathon training,” ask yourself, “Has that ever really worked before?” Probably not. I mean, if we as humans did everything we said we were going to do “tomorrow,” we’d have world peace and flying cars by now. Instead, don’t wait. Like Kurihara says, make your first small change ASAP — e.g., foregoing the burger for a salad — and hopefully that will kick off the chain of events that will take you where you want to go. 

There’s nothing wrong with setting goals to get in better shape. But if you don’t hold yourself responsible to those goals the moment you set them, the only thing you’ll be getting in shape is the leg you keep kicking that can down the road with.