Don Akers's Blog
Turning Talent Into Performance

How To Keep Your New Years Resolutions!

Happy New Year!

I love the New Year. Every New Year. I particularly love saying, “Happy New Year!” The first movie I ever remember seeing started with everyone saying “Happy New Year” to each other. I asked my dad why they were all saying that. “Because it’s the New Year.” Dad has a gift for simplicity.

Don AkersWhat I like best about the New Year is that I’m always rested and full. I take the holidays off. I eat everything and I like it. I treat December as my off season. It’s a whole month when I rest, recuperate, heal my body and give into all the food temptations I pass on all year. By January first I’m glad to skip the pastry and I’m ready to get the year started.

I love the way there are thousands of people at the gym on January 2nd and by the 9th you have your pick of the machines.

New Year is when we resolve to be healthier, richer, better people. But just like those eager beavers at the gym, most of us don’t realize that how we approach our resolutions is the key to keeping them.

Bad habits are hard to quit, and until now resolutions–good habits–have been hard to keep. Why does it seem so hard to create good habits? After all, we made a resolution and meant every word, right?

In the spring of 1974, I saw the world champs of good habit development at Natrona County stadium in Casper, Wyoming. I was on the St. Anthony’s school track team. I ran middle distance–the half mile and mile. Not fast enough to be interesting but too long to be fun.

Our team shared a track, on loan from the local high school, with the team from Poison Spider. (No, it’s not a joke. Poison Spider is a little town outside Casper.) They were one of the most successful track teams in the state and regularly had people go to the Nationals–usually in the long-distance races.

We were already good and sweaty when they got off their bus. It looked like they were having a party. They were laughing and talking, and then they started walking, that’s right, walking around the track.

They went around the quarter mile track once in small groups of four or five. They talked and laughed as they went. It was as if they were on vacation. After walking a lap, they jogged ever so slowly around the track, still laughing. Next they walked another lap. Then they jogged, even slower if that was possible. One more walking lap and they were on their way back to the bus.

Right then I knew that when it came time to race we were gonna pound them.

The second week they jogged and ran about half speed. It wasn’t until the fourth week of training that they got anywhere near race speed.

Their coach, a gray haired guy named Danny Alexander was a legend in the area. Everybody talked about how he got so much out of the talent that he had. Of course his athletes were mostly farm and ranch kids who lived outside of town. We thought they must have a strong work ethic. But they were slacking like you couldn’t believe. Still, he did take a lot of them to the Nationals.

I started telling the guys on our team that I was going to hammer these guys when it came time to race.

It didn’t seem like bragging; I had been working hard. I had earned it. We paid our dues in sweat and pain and a few minor injuries. We started training with the attitude that if you didn’t puke form overexertion the first week, you weren’t training hard enough. We started out with full workouts. We would hit the wall every day…pushed until our lungs burned and our legs seized up like lead.

The idea was that by going to your extreme and then pushing through it, you force your body to build stronger muscle and lung capacity.

My lungs were burning and my legs were seizing when the guy from Poison Spider passed me on the last lap of the race to qualify for the Nationals.

I had trained hard from the beginning, hurt a lot, got a shin splint, taped my leg for half the season, and he was passing me. It didn’t seem right. They started easy and had fun along the way. They never really pushed themselves, just added at little bit every week. And when it was time to race, they couldn’t wait to go. They had no injuries and hardly anyone quit the team.

There is magic in this strategy. I call it Alexander’s magic. They went at the season like an old farmer: slow and deliberate. Their runners never considered quitting because it was easy and fun to keep going. (I think track was probably better than chores at home.)  In the end they had more emotional energy, more “want to” for the big events because they weren’t over pushing in practice.

Great, but how does that help Joe Armchair with his resolutions? Think about it. Good habits are hard to create because we make it too hard. We’re too rigid at the beginning and too tired at the end. We start our new program and push so hard that we burn out before the shoes are broken in. But if we’re willing to ignore those old voices from the past and start slow and then stay steady, it’s easy.

Say you want to get more exercise and decide to start running every morning. What most of us do is make a bid deal out of it and tell everybody what we’re going to do. Then on the first day we get up to run we can’t find our shoes, or we can’t decide where to run, and we don’t know how long it will take.

We need to be at work on time so we decide, “I’ll figure it out tomorrow.”

Tomorrow we get up really early, find our shoes and go for a run. We get lost, wander around, cut through some bushes and scrape our arm, but worse we strain our left leg. But hey, we ran, didn’t we?

The next day, if we get up early, our leg hurts and we don’t have time to get lost again because we have a project due at work. Nice start, but we already know that our running days are over until next January when we start all over again.

It’s a joke, but it’s not funny. Worse, we’ve taught ourselves that our resolutions mean nothing.

But it’s easy to create good habits when we make it easy—follow six simple steps.

First and most important, ignore the world-class runners who say, “If you don’t run hard you might as well stay home.” That’s great when you are in top condition, but it’s a load of baloney when you are building a new habit.

STRATEGY: The habit is more important than the workout, at least initially.

1. Start where you are. Don’t try to run until you are walking at a good pace regularly and feel better when you get done than when you started. When you feel strong after two weeks of walking every day, you’re ready to start running a bit.

2. One step, then another. But not too fast. If you run hard you’ll get an adrenaline high and feel great that day–and you’ll be sore the next. You may even think you’re going to make up for some lost time–get caught up on your running by doing some extra. If you over train, you’ll be in so much agony, you won’t be able to walk without a cane.  Start easy, keep it easy, and then gradually increase in small incremental steps. The goal is to run all year, not hard one day.

3. Invest in advance. Put your clothes in the car the night before. Lay your shoes out by the bed. Visit the place where you’re going to exercise, find parking, go through the locker room, or dedicate your fist day to finding your way around. Remember we’re building a habit, not going for a world record (not yet). Make it easy to focus on what you came to do without having to make a bunch of decisions. Buy an extra brush, razor, toothbrush to keep in your gym bag so you can shower and go directly to work after.

4. Make it convenient. Choose a place that is close to your home, close to your work, or near the route in between. This is critical if you have a busy life. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to work with your schedule for you to keep the habit for long. The greatest predictor of who we marry is who we work or live around. If you aren’t close to where you need to exercise, the habit won’t stick.

5. Make it FUN. If you really want a habit to stick, you have to work with yourself. If the exercise is fun, you don’t have to invest emotional energy to push yourself. Find a place where you like to do it. I like to walk, play games, and I love the outdoors. I prefer to walk in a state park, but I’ll play tennis, basketball or settle for a run on the greenbelt near my house. When I’m outside or playing a game I feel like I’m “playing hookey.”

6. Socialize your exercise. Get a workout partner, someone who is going to encourage you, make the workout fun, help you talk yourself out of “I don’t feel like it” at five a.m. and chew your tail if you don’t show. There’s nothing like a good partner to keep us in the game.

What’s different? Our strategy or approach to building our new habit is in line with our reality. We have to carve out the time for our new habit and let our body accommodate the new exertion—and both take time. Even more importantly, if we push too hard and burn up all our “want to” in the first days, we won’t have any juice left for the times when it’s easier to sleep-in than exercise.

It’s cliché to say that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The saying became a cliché because so many of us need a daily reminder. Start now, think long-term, be gentle on yourself, and have fun!

Happy New Year!

Don Akers


3 Responses to “How To Keep Your New Years Resolutions!”

  1. Don,

    I’ve always wondered in this New Years resolution world, why we get so caught up in the sugary fattening goodies of the holidays. I like how you recommend, slow and steady is better. A train or airplane do not come up to full speed right away. Slow and steady. You can’t get it all off at once as it did not go on all at once. You can’t get all the business all at once. A slow and steady approach and habits formed lead to a very satisifiable success. We snowshoe up here and run or I just walk when the weather improves. In rural Iowa, not a very good gym to get to or the time to get into the habit. We move enough snow to make it all work. And go ahead and eat a goodie. Once bite at a time and take your time when hungry to savor it and then that is it!

  2. Wow! You’ve really got a cool blog! Keep up the hard work! Also, thank for the info.

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