How to Make A New Year’s Resolution to “Get Moving” a Practice for the Long Haul

Person’s legs in motion walking in sneakers on a walking path near beach.
Image from Fotorech on Pixabay

We have made it through the 252,000 months of 2020 and are well into December! While I am looking forward to a lowkey holiday season, for today, I want to focus on what will inevitably come at the month’s end: New Year’s and its resolutions. I have no doubt that coming off a year that has been more about surviving than thriving, there will be plenty of people looking to 2021 for a fresh start and a chance to return to a fuller life, somehow or another. And despite uncertainties about when we will “reopen” officially, they will likely start that journey by making New Year’s resolutions.

Personally, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I acknowledge that when used thoughtfully resolutions can be helpful tools for others. If my social media feed were any indication, I would say most of my friends make resolutions, the majority of which are around fitness and exercise routines. If you are like my friends and part or all of your resolutions include starting a new fitness routine in 2021, I want to support you in making it one that you enjoy and find sustainable. Finding a sustainable practice may have been hard during the pandemic, but as I know as a fitness professional it’s something people struggle with all the time. The advice I offer here can be used anytime you want to start a new movement practice or make a change to your existing one.

Photo by Viviana Podhaiski

But why trust me, a non-resolution maker, to help you? Well, I do know quite a bit about creating a sustained movement practice — even when the thought of exercise is wholly unappealing and you resent nearly every part of your body. This was me. At my lowest point, the gym brought up painful memories in my body and heart, and yet I created a regular fitness practice that I have maintained for fourteen years. Additionally, during those fourteen years I fell in love with movement and its capacity to help heal us body, mind, and spirit. I even became a trauma-informed certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. I have studied movement, its impact on our mental and physical health, and counseling psychology. I have had clients who are gym rats and jocks, but more often I work with people who are skeptical about exercise and are hoping to make regular movement an enjoyable form of self-care.

I remember in elementary school being asked to come up with ten resolutions for the new year. Upon hearing that you may think: what possibly could I have changed with a list and sheer willpower at age eight!? And, perhaps more importantly, why would someone ask a classroom full of eight year olds to change!? But the practice is so commonplace it did not strike anyone as an odd homework assignment. As adults we can find ourselves planning to make sweeping changes to our lifestyle starting on January 1 without thinking about our motives and the process, just like me and my third-grade classmates were doing as 1986 gave way to 1987.

Successful change in our behavior often hinges on self-reflection, research, and acceptance that change it is a process. The fact that many of us gloss over this part of creating change is part of why as many as 80 percent of resolution makers fail to see their resolutions through by February. I want to help you not be among that statistic. Below are four pieces of advice that can help you make your New Year’s resolution to “get moving” sustainable — and maybe even fun and satisfying.

Persons feet in running shoes as they walk up cement stairs
Persons feet in running shoes as they walk up cement stairs
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

1.Know why you are showing up. I started exercising begrudgingly because I knew that showing up and putting in the effort for sixty minutes twice a week would help me manage chronic back pain, which I’d had for seven years prior, outside of the gym. In the time since I started strength training, my reasons for showing up have multiplied, but for the most part, I show up to heal. I lift heavy things to heal my back, my relationship with my body, and past trauma. Healing is my motivator and it has helped me persevere with my practice more than any other reasons could.

If you are resolving to start a new fitness practice, before you decide on a modality or even an outfit, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” And then ask “why?” about your why. If you want to change the way you look, ask yourself “why?” If you want to get yourself out of pain, ask yourself “why?” again. Dig deep. Common sense tells us we don’t like to be in pain, and that’s perhaps enough of a why, but it helped me to also know the larger cost of my pain. Pain was limiting how fully I could live life and furthermore I wanted to get pregnant. I was scared my back wouldn’t be able to handle it, limiting my lifestyle even further, possibly even sending me to bed for weeks on end. I realized that I would rather exercise a couple of times a week than live less fully and skip exercise.

As you explore your own reason to create a movement practice, try to get at the root of that reason. Be specific. And then hold onto that reason. Write it down in a journal or on your bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker so you see it when you wake up and throughout the day.

2. Acknowledge and accept that creating a practice requires change. No matter your why, creating a practice requires change. Period. Full stop. This might be a change to your schedule, to where you park the car now that you have turned your garage into a gym, to when you get up or go to sleep, or to your budget. Going into your New Year understanding that you are going to have to make some changes will help you incorporate your new practice into your life with greater ease and forgiveness if it’s clunky at first. Remembering your “why” as you implement changes will make it even easier.

3. Do some research and have a plan. Before you buy a gym membership (virtual or IRL) or exercise equipment, ask yourself if that is the right move for you? There are so many different movement modalities and within each modality there are often different options. Start by making a list of things (including non-movement based things) you enjoy doing and do naturally, because you want to. With this list in hand, identify a kind of movement practice that you might associate with these traits, skills, or activities. Sometimes the translation is more obvious, such as enjoying listening to music or playing an instrument turning into a love of dance. Others are less obvious, but infinite connections are possible: perhaps you enjoy and excel in working collaboratively, which could translate to an intramural sport or group cross-training. This is one way to narrow down which modality to try first.

reading glasses and open pen on top of a planner next to a laptop
reading glasses and open pen on top of a planner next to a laptop
Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

Next, determine the conditions that need to be met for you to practice. Take into account schedule, budget, equipment, and facilities you have access to. Be realistic in your planning and honor your needs. Cater your choice of practice to your lifestyle, interests, and strengths.

4. Remember that practice is a process. You don’t just wake up on January 1 and have a regular movement practice because you have resolved to have one. Creating a practice is a process. But the good news is, if you’ve already committed to creating one, and are now considering how best to do so, you’ve already begun the process!

As January gives way to February and so on, please remember that you may have to be flexible or change course as you try to find what works for you, your lifestyle, and your goals. While I have been lifting heavy things for fourteen years, my approach has changed many times to reflect my goals and the conditions I needed met at the time. I have done corrective exercise, powerlifting, weightlifting, and strength and conditioning. While lifting I have tried other things, too. Curiosity has led to my working on running and swimming mechanics. I have done Karate and Muay Thai. I have tried Pilates and various forms of yoga. Some activities stuck for longer than others, but they all served me until they didn’t, and then I changed course. There is no harm in trying something and then stopping because you didn’t like it or it is no longer serving you.

Sometimes, you may miss more days than you feel like is “okay” to miss. Maybe you got sick or something else became a more urgent priority. As a mother, daughter, wife, teacher, writer, student, and all around human person, I can tell you this has happened to me. Sometimes one, or all, of the balls drop, and something’s got to give. Even if you miss two weeks, I can assure you that you didn’t lose all the benefits you gained, and it is not a reason to give up on the practice — and yourself — all together. Getting back on the proverbial horse might be hard, but if this practice supports your needs and goals, it is likely worth the challenge.

Bookcover: an oversized kettlebell on a purple background, Lifting Heavy Things: Healing Trauma One Rep at a Time

So if you are planning to make a New Year’s resolution around movement or exercise this year, I ask you to do so with compassion, thoughtfulness, and planning. If you keep these tips in mind, it’s more likely that you’ll keep showing up until the practice becomes so woven into your schedule that it becomes a welcome habit.

If you would like to learn more about creating a sustained movement practice, you might be interested in my forthcoming book, Lifting Heavy Things (LifeTree Media, May 25, 2021), where I explore this in greater depth and share some tips and exercises to support you in finding a movement practice that moves you. Pre-order your copy today!

Trauma-informed personal trainer and author of Lifting Heavy Things.