While Christyn Anysha Paul was in between jobs this year, she dedicated herself to a strict fitness routine – two to three hours of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) per day, five to six times a week.
“As I had more time to myself, I started taking my health seriously and decided to go all out,” the 31-year-old marketing communications specialist said.
Using a fitness tracker she bought in March, Paul made it a point to hit 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day and monitor her weight loss through a digital weighing scale and its companion app.
“I also use the heart rate monitor on my fitness tracker to maintain my pace and it is also a good indicator of the intensity of my workouts.
“I lost 16kg this year,” she said with joy, attributing her weight loss not just to exercise but also to a healthier diet.
Next year, Paul aimed to lose another 12kg, as she wants to achieve her ideal body mass index (BMI).
Like Paul, more people are finding that New Year’s resolutions and tech go hand in hand, helping them to stick to their workouts and spice up their routine.
According to a 2015 Nielsen report, 37% of respondents said they planned to stay fit and healthy, and 32% wanted to lose weight when asked what were their top New Year’s resolutions.
To support their weight loss plans, 34% said they intended to use apps to aid them.
During the recent 12.12 sale, most online shopping platforms reported that the sale of exercise equipment almost doubled, likely indicating that Malaysians are looking to kick-start their exercise programmes in the new year.
Wearables such as fitness trackers keep users motivated and moving, as they offer real-time feedback.
“It’s definitely better than having to chart the stats manually. When I see the data showing the work that I’ve done, I feel a sense of accomplishment,” Paul said.
If location tracking is turned on, the wearable will also record the route a user takes, which further enhances the experience.Most will also prod the user to get moving when they have been inactive for a prolonged period.
And they also offer insight when a person is off his or her feet, as they can track the amount and quality of sleep.
Jessen Lee, a cycling coach based in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, felt that the sleep data from fitness trackers is important for planning the workout for the next day.
“If your data is saying you’ve had interrupted sleep then it’s best to adjust the intensity of your training because you don’t want to hurt yourself,” he said.
For those keen to explore more places for outdoor activities as part of their New Year’s resolutions, Lee recommended TrailForks, an app that offers interactive maps for activities like hiking, trail running and cycling.
“I like this app more than Google Maps, as it shows detailed info about a trail such as its condition. You can also plan a route and send it to friends,” he added.
There are also various apps for health-related goals such as hydration (Daily Water Tracker Reminder lets users set a daily water intake goal and review their progress) and breaking bad habits like smoking (users can log cigarette-free days with Smoke Free, which also shows how much money has been saved and provides daily techniques to overcome nicotine cravings).
Change is in the air
According to Dr Gerard Louis, HELP University Faculty of Behavioural Sciences dean and counselling psychologist by training, people are fond of making New Year’s resolutions because it’s cultural and they associate them with a chance to start on a new slate.
“At this time, we are more open to changes or new experiences, especially when there have been certain aspects of our lives that we didn’t like before,” he said.
He said behavioural change happens best when people get immediate feedback about their progress and this is where tech solutions such as apps and gadgets come in handy due to the feedback they provide.
For example, fitness trackers will notify users when they have hit their activity target which gives them the satisfaction of having achieved their goal.
Some apps also reward users with virtual badges to “celebrate” them reaching a significant milestone such as reading a book every day for a month.
“When the data is giving you information that you feel is useful, you see it as an encouraging sign to keep going. Immediate, measurable and observable outcomes are important when it comes to reinforcing behaviours that you want to change. It’s the basic principle for behaviour modification,” he said.
The social aspect is another factor that makes it enjoyable, said Sitra Panirsheeluam, a behavioural therapist at The Mind Faculty.
“It allows them to compare themselves with friends and that can help them to stay motivated.
“From a behavioural perspective, technology and apps can encourage the production of dopamine, a chemical that’s released when we get excited about something,” she said.
Apps also let users share their progress on social media, which could be a positive experience for someone striving to overcome a challenge.
“Posting photos of a weight loss journey, for example, can be rewarding as individuals tend to be more consistent when there is motivation from their peers and followers on social media,” Sitra added.
Monash University Malaysia head of Department of Psychology, Prof Elizabeth Jones, suggested that those setting goals for 2021 to also consider the impact of the pandemic.
“The pandemic has left most people exhausted and living with high levels of uncertainty. It has had a significant effect on people’s mental health,” she said.
Jones said there is evidence to show that people who focus on their resilience during the pandemic can have better mental health.
“Goals that develop our sense of autonomy, our sense of competence and our sense of social connection are good for our well-being,” she said.
Turning the page
Carissa Gan, 30, aims to start writing her first book after putting off the plan for some time.
“I’ve always had this idea for a thriller and I decided that in 2021, I should really sit down and make it happen,” she said.
Gan will be monitoring her progress through a journalling app – Momento – which lets her create personalised notes with photos and videos, as well as outline goals and set deadlines.
“With the app on my phone, I’ll always have it with me and don’t have to fish out a pen and paper when inspiration strikes,” she said, adding that journalling will help her stay focused on her goal.
Gan has been using the app for 10 years and has upgraded to a premium subscription because it has helped her to recall and process thoughts from past events.
For musician Mohd Haizad Mohd Yusoff, it has been a tough year, as his plans to perform at five different shows were dashed by the pandemic.
As the lockdown declared in March by the government prohibited live shows at large events, he had to take on two new jobs – food delivery and selling insurance – to support his family.
But he hasn’t given up on his dream, as Mohd Haizad’s New Year’s resolutions include producing and distributing his own music through online platforms, and he plans to rely on good ol’ pen and paper to gauge his progress.
“I’ve started learning to use a program called Live 10 to create new music and keep improving,” the 33-year-old guitarist- singer, who is based in Kuala Lumpur, said.
It’s easier for him to freely write down his goals and deadlines along with his music composition on paper than a phone, he added.
Regardless of how people keep track of their resolutions, Louis said it’s important to start by setting realistic goals.
“If you’re telling yourself to lose 30kg in 30 days, that’s just not possible. Are you going to try and lose 1kg a day? That’s not going to be good for you,” he said.Sitra agreed, saying it’s best if people split their goals into small and achievable steps to stay motivated.
“Be mindful of what you can and can’t control,” she added.Divide and conquer
Gan said she’s giving herself the first three months to accomplish at least one chapter of her book while Mohd Haizad is motivated to see his plan through, as he has received a cash grant for a solo music project.
Paul admitted that sometimes it’s easy to ignore the notifications on her smartphone reminding her that it’s time to get active.
“I told myself as work is now starting to pick up again, I need to set a more realistic and sustainable routine. When I start over in January, I will need to do things in moderation,” she said.
Business coach Jeevan Sahadevan suggested that users take the time to decide the areas – such as fitness, finance or relationships – they want to improve.Then define the reasons and develop a plan with information needed to achieve the goals, he added.
“From here decide what tech tool you will use to track your progress,” he said.
Jeevan said people are constantly looking for better ways to do things and it’s the main reason why technology exists.
“Technology is a powerful tool and by experimenting you may find the tech you need to achieve the goals that are important to you,” he said.
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