Sean Armstrong: Why addition beats subtraction when you want to change your lifestyle

Newcastle fitness coach Sean Armstrong on why giving up things you enjoy in January probably won't give you the lasting change you need

Someone pouring a glass of wine
Someone pouring a glass of wine

We have now finished our Christmas and New Year’s indulgence and now we are beginning a New Year and New You.

The inevitable New Year’s resolutions are prepared and ready to be executed.

But how can we improve them in terms of making a lifestyle change? Apparently 68% of the UK populace aim to get fit each year and maybe you make up a portion of this and maybe you are wanting to get yourself in the best shape of your life or maybe you just want to look good on the beach for when the summer rolls around.

So how can we dominate this task of improving ourselves physically and hopefully mentally and make 2015 our year to make a big change?

It all begins with making it a lifestyle. This needs to be like clockwork, a habit; an effortless task needs to happen like brushing your teeth. If you don’t brush your teeth, maybe start there.

Now, how do we make this happen? Well let me take you back to your old maths classroom and let me ask you this; what is more difficult – subtraction or addition? Subtraction right? What is 73,463,462 - 287 and what is 18 + 2? I bet the subtraction was a chore and the addition was a breeze (yeah OK, maybe I cheated a little to prove my point).

What do we commonly do when we try to make a positive change in terms of our health, fitness and appearance? We subtract things from our life and diet rather than add things in.

This is more restrictive, daunting and unpleasant than just adding things in to improve it. As an example, January is supposed to be ‘dryathlon’ where we don’t drink. Is one-twelfth of the year really going to make a strong, lasting change, especially when the first weekend of February will no doubt lead to an all out binge drinking fest? It isn’t and I’m not suggesting to completely abstain from alcohol either.

Rather than waste our energy battling to cut out drinking alcohol, eating chocolate, eating carbohydrates, we should rather be focused on what we should be doing to make an impact on our lives and making habitual changes so it does become like clockwork.

Restriction rarely becomes clockwork and always remember that willpower is a finite resource and eventually runs out. It never results in a meaningful long lasting change.

Rather than that, we should spend our energy by giving ourselves one bi-weekly task of adding something into our routine and/or diet and doing it each and every day for 14-28 days and then adding in another habit.

We should always aim to start small. Don’t drink enough water? Why not aim to drink two litres of water a day and draw a cross for each day that you complete? Don’t eat enough vegetables? Why not try to get in at least one portion a day into your diet and then go from there, add in another daily serving and so forth.

Or you could begin taking a multivitamin to cover your nutritional bases. Don’t eat enough oily fish? Start by either aiming to have one portion a week or think about using a good omega 3 supplement daily.

Author Leo Babauta of ‘The Power of Less’ states that picking one habit at a time is essential and provides a 50-80% success rate of making something a legitimate lifestyle change whereas trying to perform multiple habits at once is nigh on impossible to stick to long-term.

We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin, we want success. The goal and the habit in itself should be easy, effortless as we don’t want unrealistic expectations of ourselves. Aiming to go to the gym daily is unrealistic if you never go and instead goals like exercising 10 minutes a day is more realistic as it is short and can be done anywhere!

You don’t even need the gym; bodyweight exercises and jogging outdoors may be all you need for your goals.

Depending on how successful you are with each habit (I’d personally recommend at least a 90% success rate before adding in something new) and how long you decide to introduce another habit, by the end of the year you could have added 12-25 new positive lifestyle habits that can benefit your health, fitness, happiness and appearance.

When you add that up over time you can bet your bottom dollar that 2015’s fitness goals will have been dominated.

I bet if you pick one habit and smash it, it will translate to other things. Drinking more water may lead to eating less food, may make you feel more energetic to move around more and so on. It all adds up and will put you on the right path to fitness success in 2015.

Sean Armstrong operates Newcastle-based Armstrong Fitness.


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