New Year’s resolutions have been a part of human nature for millennia.
The month of January was actually named for the Roman god Janus, who supposedly had two faces – one facing backward to review what had happened in the past, and one looking forward to the future. The Romans also believed that Janus could forgive them for their misdeeds of the past and help them to achieve a better life in the coming year.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that January has traditionally been the month for resolutions and, as a consequence of that tradition, a time when local gyms see a sudden influx of fresh faces. They come in droves, cautiously eyeing the variety of exercise machines or shivering their way into swimming pools for what they hope will be the beginning of a healthier lifestyle.
For some regular gym-goers, it’s a time they dread.
“Every January it’s the same thing. A ton of people show up and it takes me twice as long to get through my workout as they get on the machines and don’t really know what they’re doing, “said one patron of the Westshore YMCA who asked to be identified only as Al.
“I understand that they all have a right to be here, and if I thought they were going to be here in a month, I’d find a way to adapt my workout. But the truth is that most of them will be gone by February and you’ll never see them again.”
A regular at the YMCA-YWCA of Vancouver Island facility in Westhills, Mike Primeau, was philosophical.
“I know that there will be a lot of people coming in January, but that’s okay. I just try to come at less busy times,” he said.
“As far as offering advice? I hesitate to offer advice since I’ve been one of those people myself in the past. All I can say is make your goals attainable. If you don’t, you’ll get discouraged and drop off. Just make it a habit and keep coming.”
The influx of people with resolutions isn’t lost on staff who know that January is a very busy month.
“Every January we see a ton of new people coming into our facility. I guess it’s because of New Year’s resolutions to get more fit and lose weight, and it’s true that many of those people won’t last too long before they go back to their old ways,” said Sandy Dowell, aquatic co-ordinator at the YMCA-YWCA of Vancouver Island facility in Westhills.
It’s a common phenomenon that led to a study at the University of Scranton. In the Journal of Clinical Psychology researchers reported that resolutions tend to reflect short-term thinking, leading to only about eight per cent of resolutions being successful.
It’s a finding echoed by Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor at Carleton University.
“Most people aren’t ready to change their habits so they won’t change and that’s why we see the high failure rate,” Pychyl said.
But Dowell has a more positive outlook on the resolution phenomenon.
“The secret that I tell people is to realize that it may have taken years to put on the weight or get out of shape. It’s not something you’ll solve overnight. The problem is that people today expect instant results, no matter what they do – instant gratification,” she said.
“I tell them to find that gratification in making social connections at the gym, making it a habit, taking it slow and being consistent. Find a part of the routine that you love and make that your motivation, even if it’s just talking to some new friends at the gym or pool. Make the time in the hot tub your reward, or going out for coffee (skip the Danish) after your workout. Find something about it you love and concentrate on that. Weight loss and fitness will come along naturally once that workout is a habit.”