As the clock struck midnight Sunday, a starting pistol sounded, sending millions of Americans on the annual self-improvement quest known as New Year's resolutions.
Some will take the first steps with gusto, seeking out personal trainers or financial planners within the first week of 2017. Others will dawdle at the starting gates, waiting to join gyms until the last few days in January. Research shows a fraction will make it to the finish line, while an even greater percentage are likely to burn out before they meet the halfway point.
In Colorado Springs and elsewhere, goal-setters will recruit the help of local businesses - even if only for the first few weeks or months of January.
"It's a very high traffic time," said Keri Funkhouser, director of marketing communications for the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region. "You see a lot of people coming in that want to get refocused on their goals."
Between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15, the YMCA typically registers 1,000 new individuals or families at its facilities in Monument, Fountain and Colorado Springs, compared with 600 during the average month.
Within the first four months of 2016, about 18 percent of newcomers are likely to cancel their membership. At the six-month mark, that figure will increase to about 25 percent, Funkhouser said.
Officials at LifeTime Fitness, a nationwide chain of health clubs with a Colorado Springs location, are preparing for a 70 percent boost in new memberships during January. Springs-based Infinity Personal Training and Fitness will experience a roughly 20 percent to 30 percent bump in new clients.
Duane Johnston, owner of Accolade Fitness, said he expects an increase in gym-goers at his two Colorado Springs locations from about the third week in January to mid-March, when many of them will fall off the wagon.
In past years, the company has offered New Year's membership deals similar to the ones now advertised by the YMCA and Lifetime. But the promotional pricing wasn't cost-effective because many new customers drawn to register by the discount canceled their memberships within weeks, Johnston said.
For local financial adviser Dale Payne, January is the busiest month of the year, with requests for appointments quadrupling. New clients have returned from holidays and family reunions with a fresh sense of sentimentalism, ready to re-examine long-term savings plans, he said.
"A lot of what I do has to do with family and people wanting to leave legacies," said Payne, who mostly provides services for clients ages 40 and up. "They're really thinking about their family and their own retirement."
New Year's resolutions 101
Forty percent to 50 percent of adult Americans make New Year's resolutions, according to a 2002 study conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton. The tradition dates back to the Roman Empire, when Emperor Julius Caesar adjusted the calendar, setting January as the year's beginning. The first of the year provides a springboard and timestamp for setting self-improvement goals, said Michael Kisley, chair of the psychology department at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Research has shown people who make New Year's resolutions are much more likely to achieve their goals than people who do not make resolutions. The University of Scranton study found that about 46 percent of New Year's "resolvers" were consistently successful, compared to 4 percent of "nonresolvers" interested in changing a problem in the future.
Breaking a bad habit or developing a good one starts in the brain, which must form new connections between its transmitter cells, or neurons, for the behavior change to be lasting. This requires patience and a willingness to stay committed, despite mistakes and setbacks, said Kisley, who has a doctorate in neuroscience.
"Change takes time. You're literally trying to rewire the brain, and that takes weeks, if not months," he said. "It takes repeated practice, and there's going to be mistakes. A mistake doesn't mean that rewiring can't take place. That's why a lot of people fail. They make a resolution, and the first time they don't hold to it, they say, 'It's done' and then they walk away."
Making positive change
There's some debate among health professionals as to exactly how long it takes for constructive habits to stick.
Johnston, owner of Accolade Fitness, tells new clients it takes a minimum of about six months to see visible results.
"Most people don't realize if you have been in bad shape for 30 years, you're not going to fix it in 90 days," he said. "Fitness is really a lifetime change and a lifestyle change."
Samantha Garvin, healthy living director for the YMCA's Briargate location, said new behavior patterns are hardest to follow during the first three months. If one can keep up with a routine beyond that, he or she moves into the "maintenance stage," in which the brain becomes acclimated to the adjustment and the new behavior becomes easier to continue.
But goal-setters need to think practically when choosing their aims, Garvin said.
"It's a matter of breaking down their goal so it's a realistic one. So if it's '(lose) 50 pounds,' let's break it down into 10 pounds over 2 months," she said. "A lot of times people think they know what they're doing, but they don't. Getting a structured workout plan or some kind of guidelines leads to higher success in sticking to your goals."
Mike Barnes, certified personal trainer and owner of Infinity Personal Training and Fitness, helps clients set objectives that meet the tenets of the widely used acronym SMART, which stands for "specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive."
Because the influx of clients brought on by Jan. 1 are looking for "everything from general health and fitness to personal goal-setting and achievement and athletic performance," he considers a variety of metrics for measuring success, such as muscular strength, body composition, weight, balance and flexibility.
Other New Year's resolutions involve goals that focus more on social or mental aspects of life than physical achievements. Aimee Solis, local counselor and founder of Mindful Springs Counseling, said she's noticed an increasing popularity in resolutions having to do with self-esteem, which means much more than treating oneself to a fancy latte or a shopping spree.
"We all really struggle with self-love - self-love in a profound, deep enough way that it really matters," Solis said. "A lot of my clients are working on that this year."
Area counselor Bill Gates said he advises clients interested in making New Year's resolutions to consider family-oriented goals, such as spending more time with loved ones. He encourages people to not wait for Jan. 1 to start making a change in their lives.
"These are the kind of things we should be trying to work on all the time," said Gates, owner of Life Wise Counseling. "I'm not discouraged by New Year's resolutions. I think they're a good idea, but I would encourage people to keep them realistic and consistent with their own lifestyles."
The Washington Post contributed to the reporting of this article.