Have you made a New Year Resolution?
My resolution time is generally in the summer when there isn’t the excuse of cold and the desire to hibernate, so I’ve had a while to work on mine! I started couch to 5k. If you don’t know it, this is the NHS app that cheers you on to get running. When I started, I had basic fitness from walking and dancing, so I probably could have skipped the first couple of weeks of the programme. However, it is structured to give you small achievable goals, and doing very short runs in the beginning gave me the opportunity to think about how I was running.
I could have progressed my fitness faster if I had pushed harder, but when I start to struggle to maintain an easy movement, I feel this isn’t the kind of running I want to teach myself. I’m remaining mindful of how I am moving, as that is the ultimate goal – easy, light running that is comfortable and pleasurable. I’m not suggesting you should have perfect form to do any exercise or new skill, it’s much more important to get going. But it is worth thinking a little bit about the “how” of what you are doing.
Training with Attitude
If our resolution is to do something we resent or feel should be difficult (the no pain, no gain kind of thinking) we are likely to hang on to those feelings about it. And those feelings have physical effects. You often see new runners (I’m one too, so I’m not judging!) dragging themselves along, looking at the ground, obviously enduring the run until it is over. They may manage to keep training this way until they get enough fitness to start enjoying it. Many, though will end up stopping altogether, or will always run in this heavy, unhappy sort of way, as that is attitude (physical, and probably mental) in which they have trained themselves to do it.
When you are establishing a new habit you are training yourself. We like to repeat what is rewarded (quickly, for something that isn’t too hard, but is a bit of a challenge), and we avoid what is unpleasant. Can you find a way to make your new habit rewarding and just a little bit challenging, so you will be trained to want to repeat it? Making positive associations can help you approach this new part of your life with a relaxed “happy” body, rather than associating it with self punishment.
Reward to Repeat
With myself and running, the reward was going to a peaceful, pretty place. I committed to going out, and would do what the app told me, but if I was feeling off that day I would choose to do an easier run on the app. That way I still had a slight feeling of achievement (= reward, I want to repeat this!), but it didn’t ever feel really uncomfortable or difficult (= punishment – I don’t want to do this again!). By thinking about how I am running I’m also training myself to do it more easily and comfortably (= more reward).
We can approach a new habit with rigidity – e.g. I must do so many laps of the pool, no matter what. That’s a good aim, but there may be days when that feels like a massive slog. The prevailing attitude is that you must push to achieve your goal, and anything less is not trying hard enough! If you have a goal with a time limit, then maybe that level of pushing is appropriate, but most of us just want healthy sustainable habits. Even if you have a goal in mind, e.g. a marathon, taking care and listening to your body while you build up fitness is better for avoiding injuries. And if you are rehabilitating yourself from injury or chronic pain, then a punishing attitude to training yourself is unlikely to work long term.
What about having two goals? The “I’m having a bad day” minimum might be “I will go to the pool and complete at least 12 laps”. The aim for most days: “I will complete 30 laps”. Once you are in the pool, even on an off day, you will very likely do more than your minimum you set yourself, but those extra will feel like a bonus (a reward to your brain!) rather than a failure (a punishment…)
It might be a stretch to love your new habit, but can you do it in way that feels better, so you will want to sustain it? Whether you achieve your resolution or not, reward yourself for your new good behaviour!
Would you like some help achieving your goals while taking care of yourself and how you move? I would love to help.