When you’re at the bottom of a staircase, intending to go upstairs, you just start going.
You don’t stop to consider the various construction techniques that went into making the staircase. You don’t call a friend over to debate the merits of materials and dimensions. And you don’t think about how to best place your foot on each step for the optimal weight distribution.
You just take the first damn step. And then, you take the next one. And the next. And you just keep on taking steps until you get to the top.
Simple as that.
If we compare fitness to staircases, however, we’d have all sorts of arguments on how to build the best staircase. This isn’t a total waste of time. After all:
- If the steps are too tall, you’ll have a hard time making progress.
- And if the steps are too short, you have to take so many that it’s hard to tell if you’re making progress or not.
- Overly narrow steps make it tough to keep your balance.
- And if the staircase is poorly made, it will absolutely fall apart when you begin to put weight on it in the real world.
We could take this metaphor to the limits of absurdity, but the point is that there’s no perfect way to build a staircase–just like there’s no perfect way to train or eat or build habits.
Most of the time, the steps we take simply need to be good enough.
New Year’s resolutions have a way of overcomplicating that staircase, which inevitably sets you up for disaster. In this article, I’ll show you a better way to set goals and take that first step.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Crash and Burn
The start of a new year seems, in theory, like the perfect time to set goals for yourself and start working toward those. Without a clear “starting point,” it feels pretty arbitrary to start working on goals.
And you know what? It is arbitrary. But so are Mondays. Or birthdays. Or the first of June – you get it.
So we all pick this arbitrary date–the first of the year–to set huge goals for ourselves. This year I’ll lose 60 pounds… Starting January 1, I’m kicking my iPhone addiction… This year I’ll finally write that novel I’ve thought about since high school… By June of this year I’m going to get a handstand push-up.
And we think that, magically, on January 1, we’ll be able to accomplish these goals.
But how well have New Year’s resolutions gone for you in the past? If you’re anything like 80-90% of people, probably not well. Why is that? How is setting a New Year’s resolution any different from setting goals and building habits (which we recommend all the time)?
In theory, there is no difference–and there shouldn’t be. The way most people do New Year’s, though, is they set resolutions that are too big (I like to call them BARs–Big Ass Resolutions) and they think the first of the year is the secret to conquering that goal. They ignore the signals that the plan is failing, and push through those first 2-6 weeks until they burn themselves out.
Inevitably, when that resolution fails, you’re back to square one. See you next January. Lather, rinse, repeat.
With smart goal setting, though, each step you take will help you get closer to your bigger goals, and you can evaluate when it’s time to make a change to keep moving toward those goals.
And smart goal setting can happen at any time–whether it’s January 1 or April 23.
The Unsexy Secret to Success
If your training program gets you where you want to go, then it’s doing its job. Sure, some details may not be optimal. Like with stairs, certain details can make it easy or difficult to progress.
But those details only tend to make a big difference at the extreme ranges. We don’t notice when one set of stairs is a half inch off from another. And we can walk up wooden ones just as easily as metal or concrete.
In fact, we only notice stair construction at all when they’re spaced oddly or feel unstable.
Most “good” programs are the same way. They may not be perfect, but they’ll get you there. We really can’t stress this enough. There is no magical program that will cure all your ails and help you reach all your goals.
But most programs (barring those that are dangerous or otherwise very poorly designed) will help you make some progress.
Nothing Matters More Than Your Commitment And Effort
In this age of hype, where everyone is selling their own distinct product that is “radically unique” and “unlike anything else out there,” it’s crazy to say that most programs are interchangeable, and the only difference is how much a person is willing to stick with it.
But it’s true.
P90X, Crossfit, Kettlebells, Barbells, Zumba, and yes, our own GMB Programs all provide benefits, with different details and approaches to teaching strength and conditioning. We could certainly debate each and every one of those details to no end, though I’m sure you could do a quick Google search and find those discussions already exist…
The point is not that all programs and regimens are equal–that’s clearly not the case.
Some programs really are better for gaining strength or developing endurance, etc. However, when you start to build the habit of success, the most important part is to keep moving forward. One step after another string together into great leaps forward.
If you stick with it, that is.
2 Cues to Help You Avoid the Crash
Yes, you should stick with a plan and work it as well as possible to get the most out of it as you can. But this doesn’t mean you are beholden to that regimen forever!
You don’t get bonus points for beating a dead horse.
There are a couple of pitfalls that can sap the consistency in your training. Here are two cues to keep an eye out for. If you see them, you might want to crank the wheel and try something new.
Cue #1 – Dreading your workouts
More than just that little devil on your shoulder telling you that it’d be better to stay on your couch and finish up that bag of chips, you can feel a genuine gut ache when thinking about your training. The kind you feel when your motivation hasn’t just waned, but dropped off the edge of a cliff.
If you have to scream at yourself and do a self-motivational speech that would put college football coaches to shame before every workout, it’s time to switch things around a bit.
Forcing yourself to do something you hate is a recipe for disaster, and you will not be able to stick with that goal.
Cue #2 – Consistently poor performance
We all have bad days. They just happen, especially when you’ve been training long enough. But when those bad days string together and turn into a bad week or two, that is cause for concern.
Good programs have you working toward a particular objective, whether it’s primarily strength, endurance, skill development, or fat loss.
And whether you are aiming for it or not, somewhere in the process there will be peak moment–a spot in the program where everything clicks and you’ve hit a high point.
Some plans actively move toward it, and some just get you there from sheer consistency and effort. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, it is very hard to maintain peak condition. And it’s a losing battle to try to stay at that level for as long as you can. In fact, if you fight this too much, it will be hard to recover from the fall off that peak.
The Bigger Picture Way to Track Your Progress
Continued progress is the name of the game for both meeting your goals, and for keeping motivated.
A feeling that your efforts are being wasted–that showing up to train just to spin your wheels and not get anywhere–is the start of quitting altogether.
There may be some solid reasons why you aren’t progressing, but sometimes you’ll have made the necessary adjustments and gotten the most out of them. Is this another indication of the need to switch your training around again?
Maybe, but maybe not.
As you move past the beginner stages of training (let’s say after four months or so), progress often has to be measured on a longer time scale.
Weeks may go by with less than noticeable gains, and that can be frustrating, to say the least. But change may still be happening, just at a pace that is difficult to notice.
Embrace the Plateau
In the book, Mastery, George Leonard talks of “loving the plateau,” which is the ability to keep training and working even when progress seems to have stalled. He notes that being able to love the plateaus and maintaining regular practice during these times is the key to mastery.
So how do you know if you are on one of these “plateaus,” or if you genuinely do need to mix things up?
As we’ve discussed above, the major indicators are a genuine dread of your workouts and consistently poor performance. These are distinct from sessions where you are able to maintain your ability with no dropoffs in skill or strength, but you just don’t see steady daily or weekly gains.
It’s easy to keep going when you see improvement, but it’s much harder when there’s no such immediate feedback.
Yet this is exactly what needs to be done.
When you approach your training as a lifelong deal, instead of just being a series of New Year’s resolutions (goals you may or may not reach), that’s when the magic happens.
You treat the lulls in progress the same as the highs and lows, as just part of living your life.
Exercise becomes a habit. You brush your teeth, wash your face, grab a cup of coffee, and you train. No screaming in the mirror to pump yourself up to go to the gym every day, and no beating yourself up about it if you miss a session.
This is the key to lifelong success.
Aim for Results, Not Resolutions
The start of a new year is always a convenient start date to make resolutions of change, but unfortunately the “best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry.” So how do you make this year different from the rest?
- Choose a program, any program really, and keep walking up those stairs. Get started and keep going. The first few weeks are the hardest, but then you’ll start to make a habit of it.
- Once the habit forms and you get past those immediate improvements, you can then can begin to analyze if you need to move on. Apply these steps if you need to start up another set of stairs.
- Lastly, keep in mind that true progress can still be happening even when changes are harder to see.
Expect the plateaus, anticipate those periods where you are just plugging along and doing the work but nothing seems to be happening. Seemingly no gains, but also no losses. These periods of time are a good way to readjust your expectations and continue to cultivate the habit of exercise without external goals.
You’re doing it because you want to, not because you have to. That’s when you know the “resolutions” are finally here to stay.
If you’re not sure where to start, our Elements program will help you take that first step toward your physical goals, at any time of year. No matter what your “big ass resolutions” may be, Elements will help you build strength, flexibility, and motor control for any physical pursuits.
Take the First Step
For many people, Elements is that first step from which they can continue taking step after step toward physical autonomy. Build a strong foundation with targeted locomotive work over 7 weeks.
No matter what goals you’re working towards, set yourself up for success and take that first step. Then keep going.