So here we are, a month into the new year. How many of us already have seen those lofty resolutions go by the wayside? I can’t speak for everyone, but I have a difficult time with New Year’s resolutions simply because they’re made during one of the most inhospitable months of the year (yes, I know that sounds sacrilege to the ski crowd, but let’s be honest).
January features a scarcity of sunlight and often bitter-cold temperatures (think about the cold snap we endured during the holidays). There’s also the added stress of holidays, which can leave you a little frazzled. For those reasons, I typically think of “New Year’s resolutions” as something of an oxymoron. Of course, that just might be my cynical journalistic nature.
Whitney Ladd Otto, a leadership development consultant with Valor Performance near Boston, is more of an optimist. Otto 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,” said Otto. “January 1 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 or snowboarding can play a major role in that rejuvenation. Whether it’s finding a new level of skill or even a different skill (“I’m finally going to try backcountry skiing.”), or exploring a new resort or region, skiing is an excellent vehicle to stretch our personal boundaries, to find our real potential. That’s one of the reasons skiing and snowboarding are such great “lifetime” sports.
So how do we adhere to our skiing and snowboarding resolutions? The first thing, says Dr. Adam Naylor, a sport psychology consultant with Telos SPC, is to understand the difference between a lighthearted resolution and a serious commitment to change.
“Making a New Year’s resolution is not the same as reflective and effective goal-setting,” Naylor said. “Oftentimes, it’s at best little more than well-intentioned fantasizing.”
Psychologist and author Jack Kornfield, who trained as a Buddhist monk, recommends that people consider setting “long-term intentions” instead of New Year’s “resolutions.”
“Setting a long-term intention is like setting the compass of our heart,” wrote Kornfield in his book “The Wise Heart.” “No matter how rough the storms, how difficult the terrain, even if we have to backtrack around obstacles, our direction is clear.
“At times our dedications are practical: to learn to play the piano well, to build a thriving business, to plant and grow a beautiful garden,” he wrote. “But there are overarching dedications as well. We might dedicate our life to prayer, commit ourselves to unwavering truthfulness or to work for world peace. These overarching dedications set the compass of our life, regardless of the outer conditions. They give us direction and meaning”
Now, I’m not suggesting anything quite as “deep” or all-encompassing as Kornfield is talking about. Skiing and snowboarding, after all, are pastimes, not life goals (for most of us, anyway). But Kornfield’s comments speak to the idea that a successful resolution requires commitment.
If you’re serious about taking your skiing or boarding to another level, then you’ve got to work. Hard. Sports as physically demanding as skiing or snowboarding means that any resolution will require both an on-slope and an off-slope component, since better fitness will invariably translate to better results on the slopes.
Successful resolutions, said Naylor, typically have the following four traits, all of which apply to skiing and snowboarding:
◼ Reflective preparation. Improving your skiing or snowboarding is all about getting your reps. If you’re getting out to the slopes on a regular basis, you can visualize loftier goals. If not, dial back your expectations.
◼ Choose enjoyable activities. This is perhaps the single best reason for tailoring your resolutions around skiing and snowboarding. Simply put, they’re fun. “There are so many ways to improve fitness — exercise classes, running, athletic events, strength training, and more,” said Naylor. “Engage in something appealing.”
◼ Anticipate having your commitment tested. Most worthwhile goals aren’t easy to achieve, so expect to confront obstacles along the way. Perhaps Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with enough natural snow to make tree skiing/snowboarding an option, or a nagging injury prevents you from tackling that scary steep expert trail. Remember, those obstacles are temporary.
◼ Make it social. After “fun,” this is probably the next best reason for ski-related resolutions. The social aspect of skiing and snowboarding is one of the greatest attractions of winter sports. “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,’” said Naylor. “The more we can engage positive emotions and social connections around exercise, the more we thrive and the better we commit.”
Naylor’s last point, said Otto, is particularly fitting.
“Accountability is powerful. Share your goal commitments with others,” she said. “By making your goals public, you are reducing the likelihood you duck your own plans.”
Otto also recommended that skiers and snowboarders be specific when stating their fitness goals, and how those goals apply to their on-hill performance.
“It’s not unusual for people to make general resolutions, like ‘Live life to the fullest,’ or ‘Get in shape,’” she said. “If you want to ‘Get fit,’ decide what that means 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,” said Otto.
Being specific should come naturally to skiers and boarders. Both activities require constant assessment and reassessment of what our abilities will allow (without us getting hurt). Take the time to think 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.
Finally, Otto tells her clients to expect to falter occasionally. The key is to avoid the temptation to interpret those missteps to mean their resolution is a failure. This should be second nature for skiers, since the sport teaches us that “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 said. “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.”
Both Naylor and Otto also emphasize that anyone committing to a New Year’s resolution needs to maintain perspective.
“Show it a bit of self-compassion,” said Naylor. “Sticking with a resolution is tough.”
Occasional stumbles, said Naylor, “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.
So be firm in your convictions, but forgiving if they go sideways. Those moments shouldn’t derail your resolutions. Keep moving forward, and get back on the slopes.