Identify the What, When, and How.
The timing of New Year's Resolutions, especially in terms of personal fitness – whether that means shedding a few pounds or simply getting in better shape – has always baffled me. Sure, I understand the basic concept. Jan. 1 marks the first day of the year, and that's a natural reason for committing to new beginnings. But think about all the other dynamics working against your life-changing resolutions.
For starters, we have to deal with a serious lack of natural sunlight, with New Year's Day being one of the shortest days on the calendar. Now add the possibility of teeth-chattering cold, which tends to nudge us inside rather than outdoors. For many, that's not an ideal recipe for long-term success of fitness goals.
Still, New Year's Day remains a popular target date for resolutions because it's a "celebration of optimism for things ahead. It provides a symbolic 'starting line,' so to speak," says Dr. Adam Naylor, a sport psychology consultant with Telos SPC.
"Sure, winter has long dark days and not a lot great weather to get outdoors," says Naylor. "But it's somewhat easy to make an environmental argument any time of the year. The paradox of it all might be (that) the best remedy for the 'winter blues' is exercise."
And that's what makes skiing the perfect complement to any fitness resolution. Exercising in a gym is fine, but exercising in the brisk, fresh air of the great outdoors has no rival. With New Year's Day coming along smack in the middle of ski season, I've found a certain refreshing promise in resolutions. To accommodate the vagaries of the season, I've adjusted my notions of New Year's resolutions to include skiing.
After all, skiing is a sport that, by its very nature, is full of starts and stops, peaks and valleys. "I'm going to tackle my first mogul run this season." Or "This is the year that I ski the glades." No matter where you want to take your skiing, New Year's is a great time to map out how you're going to get there.
In the same vein, Whitney Ladd Otto, a leadership development consultant with Valor Performance in Massachusetts, believes resolutions are a great way to see winter in a positive light.
"The dark of winter is when we most need the hope that resolutions signify," says Otto. "January 1st offers us the clean slate of a pending new year, and the collective energy of people around us working towards change. This time of year can signal to us that it's time to plan our own renewal into new habits and new patterns."
Skiing can play a major role in that renewal. Whether it's finding a new level of skill or even a different skill ("I'm finally going to try telemark skiing."), or exploring a new resort or region, skiing is an excellent vehicle to stretch our personal boundaries, to discover our real potential. This is why it's such a superb "lifetime" sport.
So how do we make skiing resolutions stick? The first thing, says Naylor, is to differentiate between a light-hearted resolution and a serious commitment to change.
"The biggest challenge is that making a New Year’s resolution is not the same as reflective and effective goal-setting," he says. "Oftentimes, it's at best little more than well-intentioned fantasizing."
A sport as physically demanding as skiing means that any resolution will require both an on-slope and an off-slope component, since better fitness will invariable translate to better skiing. Otto recommends that skiers should try to be specific when stating their fitness goals.
"It's not unusual for people to make general resolutions, like 'Live life to the fullest,' or 'Get in shape,'" she says. "If you want to 'get fit,' decide what that mean in terms of your behaviors.
"Whatever your goal is, make sure you identify the 'what, when, and how' of the actual behaviors it will require to achieve," says Otto.
Being specific should come naturally to skiers, since the sport requires us to constantly assess and reassess where we're at and what our abilities will permit. Take the time to ruminate about the previous season, or even just your last outing, identifying those moments when you felt limited by your fitness level, skill set, or the terrain (I find the drive to ski country is a great time to do this).
Then put together a game plan. Seek out advice from a personal trainer or a ski instructor from your favorite resort (or both) to ensure your resolutions are reasonable (for example, a beginner should understand that he or she has to tackle intermediate terrain before jumping onto a Black Diamond trail, no matter how intoxicating the latest Warren Miller movie makes those expert runs look).
Otto says she tells her clients that they should expect to falter occasionally, but shouldn't feel like those missteps mean their resolution is a failure. This ought to be second nature for skiers, since one of the sport's time-honored lessons is this: "It's not important whether or not you fall. The important thing is to get back up." That maxim holds true whether you're planning to hit the slopes, or hit the gym.
"Life is busy and unpredictable, and nothing will go perfectly," Otto says. "Have a plan for what to do if you stumble. If you have a work project and don't get to the gym, walk the stairs at work for 20 minutes, schedule an extra workout with a friend for the weekend, or do a fitness video in your home."
Naylor says successful resolutions typically have the following four traits, all of which apply to skiing:
- Reflective preparation. Improving your skiing is all about getting your reps. If you're getting out to the slopes on a regular basis, you can envision loftier goals. If not, dial back the expectations. "Jumping in without taking a decent look at the future is like sailing into the middle of the Atlantic without charts, GPS, or a radio," says Naylor.
- Choose enjoyable activities. This is perhaps the single best reason for tailoring your resolutions around skiing. It's fun. "There are so many ways to improve fitness – exercise classes, running, athletic events, strength training, and more – engage in something appealing," says Naylor. "Excessive exertion early on leads to bad feelings, which leads to second-guessing if the activity is a bright idea."
- Anticipate having your commitment tested. Most worthwhile goals aren't easy to achieve, so you have to acknowledge that there will be obstacles along the way. Perhaps Mother Nature doesn't cooperate with enough natural snow to make tree skiing an option, or a nagging injury prevents you from tackling that scary steep expert trail. Remember that those obstacles are temporary. "Plan for the challenges of sticking with exercise in advance," says Naylor.
- Make it social. After "fun," this is probably the next best reason for ski-related resolutions. The social aspect of skiing is one of its greatest attractions (and one of the reasons it's so much fun). "Whether it's the infectious positive energy of others or the workout buddy that holds you accountable, don't discount the 'power of the pack,'" says Naylor. "The more we can engage positive emotions and social connections around exercise, the more we thrive and the better we commit."
Otto says this last point can't be overemphasized.
"Accountability is powerful. Share your goal commitments with others," she says. "By making your goals public, you are reducing the likelihood you duck your own plans. A great tactic is to join a group of people going after the same goal, then you get accountability as well as companionship and support.
Both Naylor and Otto also emphasize that anyone committing to a New Year's resolution also needs to maintain perspective.
"Show it bit of self-compassion," says Naylor. "Sticking with a resolution is tough. Step back, learn a bit from the stumble, and start up again with a future trip-prevention plan."
Occasional stumbles, he says, "are growth spots, not fatal flaws." If you find yourself at the lip of a nasty pitch, and it doesn't feel right that day, don't hesitate to take a rain check, and plan to come back to it another time. Discretion, in this instance, truly is the better part of valor.
In short, be kind to yourself, says Otto. Be firm in your convictions, but supportive when a hiccup occurs. Those moments shouldn't derail your resolutions. Keep your eye on the prize, and keep getting back on the chairlift.
First Turns at Cranmore.
Thermal Trekker Review.
How to Deal with Fear When Skiing.