January 1 may mark the beginning of the year on calendars, but lets face it: there are a lot of unofficial New Years Days each and every year. Some are cultural, some are personal.
For example, next Friday, Jan. 31, marks the Chinese New Year and the first day of the Year of the Horse. For Major League Baseball fans, a Happy New Year begins with teams return to spring training in just a couple weeks, on Feb. 13 (doesnt that just make you feel warmer?). Former UNC Chancellor Paul Hardin once said that, as an academician, his New Year was always in late August, when students returned to campus and a new school year began.
So who ever said our vows of self-improvement had to squarely begin on the very morning of Jan. 1, when the previous nights punchbowl is still wet and echoes of Auld Lang Syne still ring in our ears?
The notion was certainly not conjured by anyone practical, say most fitness experts. If youre resolutions already lay broken, youre in good company. In fact, 20 percent of resolutions are broken within the first week of January, and at least 80 percent are broken within one year, Harvard psychologist Stephen Kraus wrote for the website www.happypushing.com.
The fact is, we may be setting ourselves up to fail in numerous ways. So heres one of a few revolutionary ideas on better resolutions: start later. The good news is that you can still start your new years resolution, well, today or Feb. 1 or Sept. 17 for that matter.
Ours (programs) typically dont start until the second or third week in January, said Kathy DiBlasio, lifestyle enhancement director for the Wellness Centers at Meadowmont and Northwest Cary.
The kids are still out of school (on Jan. 1), she said. Its not packed at our facilities on Jan. 1 or 2. Once the kids go back, then we start our programs. We just started the Weigh to Wellness program this past week.
Instead of starting resolutions on Jan. 1 after a hectic month when most people have been knocked off of their usual routines because of the holidays start on Feb 1, clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula said in a Jessica Stillman article for www.inc.com, and shoot for a date every month to check progress.
I think January 1st is the worst possible day to make New Years resolutions, Durvasula added. Most people are out of their normal routine anyway, and adding something else to it can lead to quick failure.
Now that the magic of January One has been somewhat debunked, lets look at pitfall number two: the terrible toos: too much, too soon, too rigorous.
Too many resolution-aries fall prey to their own overambitious regimens and wind up disillusioned, burned out, or even injured.
One of the things I see all the time is people signing up and wanting to do every program and take advantage of every service we offer, associate director for UNC Campus Recreation Lauren Mangili said. You cant take Tabata, TRX, and Boot Camp all in the same session. We tell people to pace themselves, dont jump back in too quickly, even if the person has only taken time off during a semester break.
An hour-long high-intensity aerobics class on your first day will only discourage you...and may send you back to square one, cautioned weightwatchers.com writer Melissa Sperl.
For those looking to lose weight, most fitness experts suggest a reasonable goal of losing not more than two pounds in a week and up to eight pounds a month. Similarly, runners should not increase mileage more than 10 percent from week to week.
Another motivating factor is good support, both in terms of coaching and friendship.
A workout partner can be immeasurably helpful, Sperl said, because you have a responsibility to your friend not to talk yourself out of exercising. Try to choose a buddy whos in about the same shape as you.
In addition to the positives derived from working out in groups, surrounding yourself with expertise goes a long way as well.
I try to get my designated personal trainers to spend time several hours on the floor for kind of an ask the trainer capacity, Chapel Hill / Carrboro YMCA Health Enhancement Director Kevin Cragwell said. They offer BMI and fitness testing, and we (encourage) try our professional staff to have conversations about personal goals and to assist people with them.
Cragwell said programs like the Ys Women on Weights program (beginning Feb. 3) and their upcoming Couch to Four-miler running club create a support system of like-minded individuals to work out with.
We try to offer several opportunities for folks to hook into something which will keep them engaged down the road, Cragwell said.
Finally, remember: to fall short is human; to forgive yourself, divine.
When people think theyve blown it in a week, they havent, DiBlasio said. Its the little changes that matter. They need to get back on the horse and make the small changes: dont try to change the way you eat, the way you exercise, and your job all at once. Just drink more water for example: thats something to start with.
Commit to trying it consistently for at least three weeks, Sperl suggested. If you still think you hate it after that amount of time, give yourself permission to say, okay, this isnt working. Then pick something different and repeat.
Then again, failing to stick with goals can be more a problem of setting unreasonable goals than a lack of resolve.
Resolutions set us up for failure by luring us into all-or-none thinking, wrote Kraus, who said that failure in those cases can snowball, whereby a minor lapse snowballs into a major relapse and a total collapse.
Rather than self-condemnation, then, reward a little more and self-punish a lot less. Celebrate the little victories; just perhaps not with big feasts.
So, with New Years Day now a memory, if youre still looking to improve yourself in 2014, pick another date. Any date will do if you remain committed to it. Maybe its the Chinese New Year. Maybe its a random day in March.
Maybe its today.