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Wanting to lose weight is one thing; learning how to shop for and cook healthy meals is another altogether. One is a desire, the other is a plan.Anchiy/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The new year always brings with it the false promise of a fresh start. As the calendar turns over, we vow to make big changes in order to become a “better” person. It’s an annual rite honoured by so many, and now here we are, the end of January well within sight. How many of you have already broken your resolutions? I know I have.

Along with my standard resolution (“Drink less booze, read more books”), this year I said I would write for at least 20 minutes every day. That hasn’t happened. I’ve been teetotalling for most of the month and am halfway through two books, but aside from these words you’re reading now, I haven’t written much of anything since early December. This doesn’t bother me at all, nor should your failure to run 5K every morning or the fact that you had a bag of chips for lunch last week.

Resolutions aren’t all-or-nothing propositions. They’re idealized goals that manifest slowly over time. Progress is never linear, it’s a series of peaks and valleys, with some slopes steeper than others. Or, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, adopting a new habit is like knocking over a Coke machine. You can’t do it in one push – you’ve got to rock it back and forth a few times and then it goes over.

Whatever your goals are for 2022, be they fitness-related or otherwise, I recommend paying heed to the following basic tenets. Doing so won’t guarantee success; guarantees are outside of my scope of practice. What you’ll find instead is a method for preserving your sanity and self-esteem while maybe, just maybe, making some lasting life changes.

Be realistic

For this little thought experiment we’re going to use an example that’s likely familiar to any adult who has ever made a resolution: losing weight. It’s important to keep in mind that the longer you’ve been engaging in a behaviour, the more effort it’s going to take to change it. If you’ve been overweight for 10 years, expecting to drop it in a few weeks, or even a few months, isn’t very realistic.

Big, audacious goals are wonderful, but if what you’re aiming at is unattainable, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Expecting to lose 100 pounds in time for summer isn’t at all realistic. But by this time next year? That’s totally doable. Focus on small, sustainable steps – say, a pound or two a week – and celebrate the heck out of every milestone.

Ask yourself why

The Five Whys is a useful strategy for uncovering genuine solutions to complicated problems. The idea is, because our initial responses to anything are often reflexive and superficial, we need to dig deeper to find the truth. Like peeling an onion, this experience can be unpleasant and filled with tears, but with each layer we get closer to the good stuff in the centre. Here’s how it works, using our losing weight resolution as an example:

Why do you want to lose weight? “Because I’m too heavy.”

Why are you too heavy? “Because I have an unhealthy diet.”

Why do you have an unhealthy diet? “Because I’m tired at the end of my workday and it’s easier to grab takeout on the way home.”

Why is it easier to grab takeout? “Because I hate getting the groceries and don’t know how to cook.”

Ah-ha! Now we’re onto something here. Wanting to lose weight is one thing; learning how to shop for and cook healthy meals is another altogether. One is a desire, the other is a plan. Which do you think will pay off in the end?

Make it fun

Consistency is the single most important factor for achieving just about anything. This doesn’t mean you must live your life under a regime of intense self-discipline (although it can), it simply means doing the right stuff more often than the less right stuff. And when tasks are rooted in something fun, they’re a lot more likely to get accomplished.

Take our example from the previous point. After asking why a few times, we came up with the foundation of a solid plan – learning how to cook. What sounds like more fun to you, agonizing over calories every single day, or spending a Sunday preparing an awesome coconut curry that can be portioned-out over the course of the following week? More importantly, which habit do you think is going to stick?

Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Kitchener, Ont.

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