Think Before You Leap

‘Tis the season to make resolutions and for many Americans that means vowing to lose weight. Whether you call it shaping up, slimming down or getting toned, fitness and weight loss goals are part of our annual goal-setting ritual.

Unfortunately, this won’t be the year most of us finally stick to that elusive diet and exercise program. Many resolutions are broken before the Super Bowl, and most are forgotten by Valentine’s Day. In fact, your local gym can attest to the fact that the next spike in gym visits will be in March when people see swimsuit season on the horizon.

Giving up on fitness is probably in contention for becoming our national pastime. Imagining and desiring a new you is the easy part. Achieving that vision is vastly more difficult. Both research and experience bear this out.

Researchers call the popular option of giving up “exercise dropout” and it has long been known that about half of those who start an exercise program will quit within six months. Ample evidence also shows that diet compliance is low and even when dieters do succeed it is short lived. Another research term, “weight regain”, is all too common in research articles.

Less well known is the phrase “decision quality”. The concept, explained by Leonard Wankel over 30 years ago, was used in exercise behavior research. His work showed that you could increase your success by increasing your preparation.

Decision quality may not be a new concept, but it is an important one. The cost of a “low quality decision” is often fitness failure. We see this every time someone makes a small commitment to big change:

“I feel so fat. Starting January 1st I’m going to workout every day.”

In all likelihood, that plan will not work. Success is more likely when we take time to consider everything involved in changing our behavior. The first step does not involve performance footwear at all; you are more likely to be using a keyboard.

3 Steps to Better Decision Quality:

  1. List the behaviors you intend to change and the specific pros and cons of each one.
  2. Identify potential obstacles and the strategies you will use to overcome them.
  3. Develop your plan to re-start after a setback occurs.

According to the decision quality paradigm, applying your initial motivation to the process of achieving your goal is more effective than just doing it. The well-known Nike slogan is great when you’re gearing up for a daily workout, but it doesn’t lead to sustained motivation needed for real fitness and weight loss changes.

Successful goal setters apply themselves to planning and preparation before they jump into action. They anticipate obstacles and setbacks and create a plan to overcome them. Planning for hard times may not be how everyone wants to start his or her new year, but it has the potential to make or break your fitness resolution success next year.

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