QUITTER’S DAY HAS come and gone. That means if you’re still on track with your new year’s resolutions, you’ve already vaulted over the most difficult hurdle. In case you’re not aware, quitter’s day is the perennial day of resolution abandonment—as in, it’s the most common day to give up on your goals. Unofficially, it’s the second Friday of January, and you’re most likely thinking ‘yeah, that sounds about right’.
Allow us to paint a picture. The new year started strong, you spouted some dubious proclamations regarding improvements to your health in the closing days of 2023, you made a start on your goals in the first week of January and for a brief moment felt like you’d turned a corner. That’s when the return to work hit you like a brick wall. Suddenly, there’s less time in the day for non-essential activities. As the week progresses, your resolutions are taking a back seat more often than not. By the conclusion of the working week, the last thing you’ve got on your mind is sticking to those lofty resolutions you’re now cursing yourself for making. This year, that turn of events finished up on Friday, January 12th—quitter’s day.
The stats aren’t exactly in ‘resolutioners’ favour. Over the last five years 40 per cent of Australians have started the year by committing to a fitness goal, with 54 per cent of them giving up on that goal within three months of setting it. And the problem extends beyond resolutions. Nationally representative research conducted by YouGov on behalf of fitness lifestyle brand Peloton has revealed that 56 per cent of Australians who had a ‘fitness relationship’—meaning a gym membership, fitness app subscription or workout routine—quit on that relationship within the same year.
Clearly, Aussies have commitment issues. But why do so many struggle to stick to their goals? While everyone has different reasons for quitting on their goals—and plenty of creative excuses to back up their failings—you can’t probably continue to absolve yourself of responsibility every January, can you? No, you can’t, so let’s go through the reasons why most fitness goals aren’t accomplished, and how you can set out to conquer yours.
Why do most new year’s resolutions fail?
It’s difficult to pin down a single reason why new year’s resolutions aren’t kept. You might assume that time is the biggest factor, but a little introspection will reveal that if people want to make time for something, they will. The next most likely offender is a lack of motivation, which is an obvious factor, but we need to question why people lose motivation so easily, not just accept motivation loss as inevitable. In reality, setting goals that are grossly unrealistic can be a death knell for your aspirations. According to psychologist Jacqui Manning, unrealistic goal setting is the biggest contributor to failed resolutions and fitness goals.
“People often set goals with the best will in the world thinking they can just suddenly make a big lifestyle change, and then they find that life gets in the way,” Manning says. “People have to be realistic about the goals they’re setting. If you’ve never been a runner and set off to run 5km tomorrow, it’s probably not going to work. It’s going to be hard, you might get hurt, and it’s certainly going to weaken your motivation.”
Manning believes that being surrounded by people at different stages in their fitness journeys also contributes to unrealistic goal setting. Around Christmas, we’re encountering other people’s experiences at a much higher rate. Maybe your younger cousin has been hitting the gym and rapidly bulking up since last Christmas. Maybe your aunt just ran her first marathon and won’t stop banging on about it. These experiences can make you believe you need to be aiming higher, when you really don’t. “We’re talking to others who are on a different path and we think we can keep up with them. Usually we can’t, but we get excited and set goals that are out of reach,” Manning says.
In addition to setting unrealistic goals, Manning says that people often frame goals negatively. “It makes it seem like they’re trying to resolve something negative. It might look like setting a goal to lose weight, rather than to improve your health, to do more cardio, or to increase your lung capacity,” Manning says. “Humans are wired to look for problems and negativity, it’s just how we’ve survived all these years, and that’s the same in the fitness arena. But you’re far more likely to stick to a goal if you’re thinking positively and looking for opportunities rather than problems.”
Negative goals are also finite. Once you’ve lost the requisite amount of weight and accomplished your goal, it’s far too easy to consider the job done and slack off before ending up back where you started. “If your goal is to lose five kilos, once you’ve done that your motivation switches off,” Manning says. “You want to have a goal that doesn’t end. Something like being the healthiest you can be, or feeling the best you can. That’s a goal that you can always work towards.”
How can you stick to your new year’s resolutions and fitness goals?
Now that we’ve worked through the reasons they fail, let’s discuss how your goals and fitness relationships can succeed. Firstly, being clear about what you want to achieve is necessary, even if it means you need to hold yourself accountable more frequently. “Being as specific as we can helps our brains work. If we’re confusing in our language, then it’s hard to follow those instructions,” Manning says. “Saying something like ‘I’d like to do more exercise in 2024’ is a bit nebulous, it doesn’t really make sense to us. By being specific with your goals, like saying ‘Mondays and Thursdays I’m going to work out’, it changes how you approach it.”
Maintaining a positive mindset is another key to success. While it’s important to hold yourself accountable, Manning argues that staying positive is more important than hitting every target. “If you miss a workout, you miss a workout. Start the next day and don’t let those negative feelings stay in your head for too long,” she says.
The YouGov and Peloton report also revealed that Australians love company. Sixty-nine per cent of Aussies are more likely to uphold a fitness plan they’ve made with a friend or partner than a solo plan. The message here is that setting goals as a group, joining a community, and creating a sense of connection are massively beneficial. That’s a sentiment that Dave Anderson, a Peloton veteran, wholeheartedly agrees with.
Anderson is a tech executive with a busy schedule who frequently needs to travel for work. As a result, he used to struggle to find the time to settle in for an extended, high-energy sweat session. “I was feeling depressed, mentally burnt out, and on the cusp of a breakdown, greatly due to a busy work lifestyle and being away from home,” Anderson says.
That changed when Anderson joined Peloton and found a community of like-minded individuals who were as committed to their goals as he was. Since then, Anderson hasn’t looked back and is now training for his first marathon. “I’m on a 132-week streak, working out almost every day, I’m the fittest I’ve been and running the best I ever have, without injury,” Anderson says.
For Manning, the benefits of setting goals as a group or joining a community are clear. “We’re social animals, so a community can really fuel us and even add another layer of benefit to physical exercise because you’re also getting emotional nourishment,” she said. “You’re making a commitment that isn’t just to yourself. With a virtual community like Peloton, while you might not be physically exercising together, you still feel like you’re not alone.”
And there you have it. That’s everything you need to know to conquer your fitness goals in 2024 and onwards. This news may have come too late if you’ve already fallen victim to quitter’s day, but there’s no reason why fitness goals should be reserved for the new year period. There’s never going to be a perfect time to set a goal, so why not start today?