It happens every year. By the time February rolls around, many New Year's resolutions crafted with the best of intentions already have slipped from our thoughts.
"At the beginning of the year, there are always a lot of new members," said trainer Kirstin Piquette at Seattle Fitness Club. "But by February, it's starting to get back to the regular crowd."
Kari Anderson, who, with her husband, owns three Pro-Robics clubs and recently acquired a Gold's Gym, has seen many resolution-inspired members stay through January but disappear by mid-February. "Some of them even have one-year memberships, but they lose the fire."
But wait. There's hope. A change in outlook and a more realistic approach could be the keys to reviving those good intentions, say those who study the resolution game.
First of all, know that you're not alone. Only 40 percent of those who succeeded with their top New Year's resolution did so on their first try in a 1997 survey conducted by Alan Marlatt, director of the University of Washington's Addictive Behaviors Research Center, and Elizabeth Miller, then a doctoral candidate in psychology.
Seventeen percent of those who reached their goals did so only after more than a half-dozen attempts.
"If people fail, it's important to know what were the obstacles that came up for them on that particular try," said Miller, who has since completed her doctorate and founded her own company, DatStat.com, which does Web-based data collection and management.
Identifying the obstacles to success is the first step toward dealing with them, Miller said. For example, if you were going to run regularly but you just can't make yourself head out in the rain, look at your options for indoor exercise. If your weight-loss goal seems impossibly remote, pick a different target weight.
Lisa Talamini, head of programming for Jenny Craig, agrees that when a setback occurs, it's crucial to understand what caused it, and deal with that. "It's not about judging, it's knowing that things happen, and we move on," she said.
Talamini said small successes deserve rewards, but she cautions that the reward shouldn't conflict with the goal.
Miller encourages people to put their resolutions in the form of a behavior, such as getting exercise, instead of an outcome, such as losing weight.
And she sees potential danger in the psychological connection between New Year's Day and self-improvement efforts, a fixation that prompts some people, when they encounter failure, to put their efforts aside until next year.
"You can start on a Monday, an anniversary, a birthday, a sunny day or a rainy day -- there doesn't need to be a reason other than today is a new day," she said.
Pamela Sampel, 41, knows exactly what Miller is talking about. In 1999, she resolved to find an exercise program she could stick with. "It was my resolution for the year, but I didn't act on it until June," said Sampel.
Sampel was a competitive swimmer for 16 years, but a busy college schedule and several broken ankles gradually led her away from physical activity.
As she gained weight and lost strength, lethargy set in. "I had stopped doing things that I enjoyed, like skiing. I told myself I was too busy, but really I just didn't feel in good enough shape."
Several times she tried to get started; several times she failed. In some gyms, she said, she felt intimidated because the people she saw there seemed "already fit and beautiful." Finally, she found what worked best for her, pairing with a personal trainer.
Trainers provide encouragement, validation and gentle nudges. Sampel's trainer, Piquette, says that if she hasn't seen a client in a while, she'll call them up at home. "I try not to nag," she said. "But I try to find what's going on with them and ask if there's anything I can do."