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Caroline Jordan is blonde, tan, and fit. She has six-pack abs. Maybe eight-pack. (How many abs can one woman pack into a torso?) The point is that she looks like the kind of person you would find while scanning Instagram for #fitspo. While fitness certainly plays a big role in her life —Caroline teaches group fitness classes at Equinox, develops wellness plans for corporations, and works with private clients as a life coach— she'll be the first to tell you that staring at photos of other fit people isn't enough to spur lasting change.
"Fitness is not a quick fix. It's not like you get eight-pack abs and you're done. It really is a long-term lifestyle. In order to live a lifestyle that you love, you've got to be nicer to yourself. We live in a culture of extremes, a culture that likes to work really hard. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves —especially women— to be successful, to look good, to fit into the box of what society says is accomplished. When we don't fit into that box, it causes us to give ourselves a hard time. To feel guilty or shame or all these negative emotions."
Instead of concentrating on the goals that you missed, Caroline says that you'll enjoy more prolonged success by focusing on what you've achieved. It may sound hokey, but it really does come back to the power of positive thinking. And that, in itself, requires work. "You have to do mental pushups. You have to train positive thoughts," she explains. "When you're in a workout, instead of thinking 'I've got to push myself harder; sweat is fat crying,' why not focus on 'It's a challenging workout. Look at how strong I am for being able to be here in this challenging workout. How amazing that I'm healthy enough to be here.' What you choose to focus on affects the outcome."
Shifting that focus also means setting reasonable benchmarks. For example, if your fitness goal in 2015 is the elusive six-pack, you could spend weeks or months without the holy grail of abs before checking a hard core off your resolution list. To avoid discouragement, Caroline recommends setting a SMART goal —specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timed— laying out your plan of attack. Determine what you are going to do every day, week, and month to build that six-pack. As you make progress toward your bigger goal, you can congratulate yourself for taking those smaller steps.
While working toward your resolutions —no matter what they may be— Caroline's a big believer in coaching for accountability and encouragement. "No person is an island. We need support... I truly believe that coaching is the right answer. You don't have to hire someone; you can work with a friend or air out your concerns in a journal or use a fitness app that helps you identify your ideal and how you get there," she suggests.
If you're new to exercising, Caroline recommends easing your way into workout regimen. "If you didn't exercise at all for a month, try starting your first week back with two workouts. Two that are 30 minutes and not extreme. You have all year to work out, and Rome was not built in a day. Follow a moderate rate of progression… If you go too hard, then you're just going to do the yo-yo thing again."
Also keep in mind that not every person will enjoy every type of exercise. "Listen to how you feel during and after the workout. Listen to how your body feels. If you're new to fitness, it's going to take some time to get used to a certain movement mentality. Giving it a fair shot is always important." That said, if you try running twice a week for several months and you still hate running, it's okay to decide that running isn't the best fit for you.
Regardless of your specific goal, Caroline says that people need to recognize that their ultimate goal is happiness. "People love to get a six-pack because they think it's going to make them happier. Or they want $100,000 per year because they think it's going to make them happier. External goals are great because they drive you forward, but you have to recognize that happiness comes from within; not from abs. You're not going to be happy all the time, but you can use positive thoughts to help you find more passion, purpose, and fulfillment in your everyday."