Quitter’s Day 2021: Don’t Celebrate–Start Low, Go Slow

We’ve already arrived at the third Sunday in January.  Right around this day, give or take, is when most people quit working on their New Year’s Resolutions.  Some people now call this Quitter’s Day.  

Quitter’s Day was “discovered” back in 2019, by Strava.  Many of you may use or know of Strava as an exercise tracker. 

The problem with New Year’s Resolutions

I am a dreamer.  Dreaming is what brings me some of my best (and worst!) ideas.  People seem to get better at dreaming as a year comes to a close and they reflect on the past year.  Some of these dreams turn into something that sounds more realistic—-New Year’s Resolutions.  

But Resolutions, dreams, goals—whatever you want to call them, remain as such, unless we have the right plan.  And HOW we plan to achieve our resolutions is the key in pushing right past Quitter’s Day.

“A goal without a plan, is just a wish”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The key to achieving a big hairy audacious goal (a.k.a. BHAG), especially when it revolves around health and wellness, is to establish a plan that implements small changes in your daily life.  And when I mean small …. I mean small.  

Plan=Establishing Tiny Habits

BJ Fogg, PhD of Stanford University has written a book called Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything which outlines how to go about making small changes in your life that lead to lasting habits.  And lasting habits can lead you to your BHAG. 

Dr. Fogg discusses what he calls “Motivation Waves”.  As all of you have experienced, motivation fluctuates across the month, a day, an hour within a day—unfortunately.  Simply put, when motivation is high, it’s possible to do hard things such as a two-hour training ride or run.  When motivation is low, doing any form of exercise for two hours can seem impossible.  

BJ Fogg, PhD explains Motivation Waves

In short, it’s not recommended to set a New Year’s Resolution of working out 2 hours per day, especially if that is a drastic change from your current habits.  And all of us experience motivation waves to some extent.  

In a recent interview, Mark Hyman, MD and BJ Fogg, PhD, discuss the book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything.  Dr. Hyman talks about how tiny habits absolutely changed his health and wellness routine.  Dr. Hyman tells the story of how he had a long-time dislike of strength training, as it was just something that he didn’t enjoy.  He thought strength training was “hard” and “uncomfortable”.  His motivation for strength training was low, even though he knows as a physician that it is a really beneficial thing for fighting sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging).  But Dr. Hyman was able to change his habits and he relays the story of how he started with doing one push up per day.  Yes—one.  And he did that pushup while he waited for the shower to warm up.  Instead of standing there waiting for water temperature to increase, he would get down on the ground and do one push up.  Eventually, that one pushup became easier.  Several years later, he hired a personal trainer and now engages in regular strength training.  A tiny habit turned into positive behavior change that will greatly benefit his health in the long term.  

To hear the complete interview on the Doctor’s Farmacy podcast, click here.

To hear more about behavior change from BJ Fogg, PhD, click here.  

Tiny Habits have worked for Me!

I also know from first-hand experience, that implementing long lasting change, requires incremental changes over time.  When I first began “distance running” as a form of exercise in my late teens, running a mile was hard.  I would run down my parents’ street and then back to the drive way—that was it.  

But as I got better at running one mile, I became curious.  How far could I go?  Little by little, I worked my way up to 2 miles and eventually ran my first half marathon 6 years later.  That’s right —-6 years later.  I started low and I went slow.  And then 15 years later, I became a Boston Marathoner.  If you’d have asked me in 1999 whether or not I’d ever want to run a marathon—much less be able to—I would have said “hell no”.  

Weber running the 2014 Boston Marathon–15 years after she began running–only 1 mile at a time.

Moral of the Story? Don’t say “hell no”.  Start low and go slow. 

If you want to read a really inspiring story of someone who has implemented small changes everyday to become the first person with Down’s Syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon, read Chris Nikic’s story on his website here. Learn his life changing method of “1% better”.

My exercise prescription for patients: Start low, go slow

This is the underlying principle for how I prescribe exercise for the majority of my patients—especially those with a long-time history of difficulty with lifestyle change.  An example of this is a patient I just saw last week who barely averages 1000 to 2000 steps per day.  My recommendation to him?  Over the next month, let’s see if we can get your daily step count to 2,500 steps per day.  If one were to increase his step count from 2000 to 2500 over 4 weeks, that means increasing step count by 17.8 steps per day.  One could easily take 17.8 steps by parking the car 5 parking spaces further from the grocery store entrance than they normally do.  A small change that can be built into everyday activities.  

Dream big, but start low and go slow.  Above all else—don’t quit.