Fitness advice: How to make your 2019 New Year's resolutions stick, from note taking to measuring progress

Harry Thomas

It’s January and we all know what that means – you ate too much, you drank too much and you didn’t do any exercise. Now you feel fat, lazy and permanently anxious. I know the feeling, buddy.

But we have plans, right? I have plans, you have plans, the guy from accounts who’s turned a funny shade of grey has plans. This is the year you’re going to keep up an exercise regime, stop yourself from ploughing through two pints every lunch and a four-pack in the evening, and get a decent night’s kip every once in a while.

Feel like deja vu? It should: various studies say 80 per cent of us fail to keep our new year’s resolutions. Every year we make ourselves promises that, deep down, we know we’re not going to keep.

Well I have some good news: making a new start isn’t as tough as you might think. Those promises to yourself can last more than a fortnight. By the time 2020 rolls around, you can be setting yourself even higher targets instead of revisiting the same goals again and again, ad infinitum, until you’re finally lowered into an early grave.

There are, of course, many reasons we struggle to get results. We’re bombarded with so much information it’s almost impossible to know what to believe. So I’m going to keep this simple: here are three things to help you hit your targets this year.

Write down your goals

This sounds so simple it’s almost childish, but writing something down is a powerful exercise. Spell out exactly what you actually want to achieve. Spend some time thinking about it and come up with five areas to work towards. Be realistic – if you plan to shed five stone, give up sugar and start bench-pressing 120kg, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Change a few small things, don’t feel like you need to go in all guns blazing.

Next write down why you want to achieve those goals. If you decide you want to lose weight, consider how it might change your everyday life. Maybe your clothes would fit better, you’d be less self-conscious at the swimming pool, be more attractive to your partner. If you want to lift heavier weights, ask why. Try to dig deep into your motivations. Be your own accountant, keeping a record of the promises you make and then ensuring you pay the bill throughout the year.

Measure progress

Now you know your destination, you have to work out how to get there. Monitoring progress – and seeing improvements – is the best way to stay motivated. Don’t just stand on the scales every week – get a tape measure out, take photographs of yourself, see if your favourite pair of jeans feel looser.

Maybe you’re sleeping better, or you’re more alert in the mornings. Are you feeling more confident in meetings? Mark every time you exercise in your calendar. Keep a track of how many steps you’ve taken, and try to beat your personal best each week. Keep a gym diary and track the number of reps you can do, the most press-ups you can manage, how long you can run flat-out on the treadmill. Take a note of your daily food consumption. Count calories. Monitor your heart-rate. Write down as much as you can – it may seem overwhelming, but the incremental improvements you will see will keep you going when the initial motivation starts to fade.

Have patience

Don’t go into this thinking you’ll be a different person by the end of January. It won’t happen; not even close. Rather than looking at the end result, focus on the actual doing.

Getting fit is a long, laborious and often painful process, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been able to touch your toes or climb a few flights of stairs. Stick at it and watch out for those small changes, both physical and mental. Most people give up after January because they don’t think they’re making any progress. But not you, you have the proof, you have the data. The profits may be small, but at least your account is in credit.

If you want to make the process a whole lot easier, find a gym buddy with similar goals, or book sessions with a personal trainer. Book them in advance – there’s no better motivation for turning down a third pint than knowing you’re going to be doing deadlifts the next morning. Getting into the habit of exercising is the hardest part – feeling a responsibility to someone other than yourself makes you much more likely to succeed. If you go down the personal trainer route, do your research and be sure your sessions are related to your goals.

None of this will be easy, but getting fit can be one of the most rewarding and beneficial things you can do. You will feel the effects mentally as well as physically. And if you stick to my three points, you have a decent chance of keeping up your resolutions long after February.

• Harry works at