Focus on Behaviors, Not Outcomes

Magnifying Glass

It is that time of the year, and many of us are focusing on our New Year’s Resolutions. I do not have any firm statistics, but I am guessing that not an insignificant number of those resolutions have to do with health/fitness/weight. And (again without firm statistices) my guess is that many of us will be no more successful this year than we were last year.

At a gym where I worked previously, every fall there was a big promotion for a weight loss challenge that would begin in January. The male and female participants who lost the most weight as a percent of their total weight won a prize and bragging rights for the year. One year, I was put “in charge” of the challenge with a couple of other trainers and we decided to shift some of the focus away from weight loss entirely; we knew there could only be two winners, but we wanted everyone to succeed by creating healthy habits. There were two sets of winners: 1. those with the greatest percentage of weight loss, and 2. those who had the greatest number of overall “points.” Points could be earned through weight loss, and also through participating in a fitness class, setting and meeting a fitness goal (like doing a 5K or planking for 60 seconds), or participating in special events like the Indoor Triathlon. We also split into teams, banking on the fact that when we work together in a supportive setting we are more likely to stay motivated. Not surprisingly, attrition during the challenge was quite low; participants really stuck with it because they knew that it was not just about dropping pounds, but also about being accountable to themselves and their teammates–and about building a healthier lifestyle with good habits for the long term.

Unfortunately, most of us do not focus on the permanently changing our lifestyles; we obsess over the number on the scale. I am a firm believer in setting and adhering to simple rules to help make those changes; I even blogged about it. Make a few rules that are do-able, like “no eating after 8 pm,” or “I will go to the gym 3 times each week for 40 minutes,” or “I will take the stairs each day rather than the elevator.” These are all simple, measurable, achievable rules. They are much more concrete than “I will be more healthy,” or even “I will lose 20 pounds.” Neither of those has a plan; they focus on a goal rather than a behavior.

Those who focus on a goal find that it is difficult to stick with it if results do not seem immediately forthcoming. On the other hand, those who focus on the behaviors can be proud of progress on a regular basis. This is much more useful in building a healthier lifestyle.

I have not decided what (if any) New Year’s Resolutions I will make; I am more apt to do this around Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In any case, if/when I do I will be certain to focus on what I will do, not where I hope to arrive. It is all about the journey….and eventually we make it to the destination.

How to Keep the Weight Off

Christmas Break 2008 10

This time of the year, many people are thinking about New Year’s Resolutions and a popular one is to lose weight. Just ask anyone who is a regular gym-goer and they can tell you that the first few weeks of January are always the busiest; fitness facilities are loaded with what I call “resolutionaries.”

Of course, a better way to look at this is to go beyond the mere number on the scale. While weight as a number is a data point, our fitness level depends on other factors as well: endurance, strength, power, cardiovascular health, etc. A better resolution might be to “become more fit” or “pursue a healthier lifestyle.” What both of those mean is up to individual interpretation, so it is important to come up with goals that are beyond merely a number on a scale such as “I want to be able to run a mile without stopping” or “I will do 30 minutes of cardio 3 times per week” or “I will begin training regularly with a Personal Trainer.”

Numerous studies have pointed out that we should take a more holistic approach rather than simply focusing on the readout on the scale. In fact, when we focus more on overall health we actually have greater success at weight loss and especially keeping the weight off.

Research shows that those who put an end to their sedentary lifestyle and become more active will do a better job of losing weight and keeping it off compared to those who simply diet. Studies show that dieting can take the pounds off but unless we engage in a healthy lifestyle that includes diet, exercise and other healthy habits (not smoking, getting enough rest, etc.) , there is a higher chance that the pounds will return.

There is no easy fix to getting healthier. Diet alone or exercise alone won’t cut it for the long term. It is all about a lifestyle that promotes healthy habits. A lifestyle isn’t just something that lasts for a month or six months or a year until we achieve our goal weight; a lifestyle is about what we do from this point forward.

As the New Year approaches consider not only the changes you want to see right now, but also how to make them last for a long and healthy lifetime!