I see it over and over and over again. Scores of people line up to begin a health and fitness challenge. Whether it’s acting on a New Year’s Resolution at the beginning of January or a sudden resolve to undertake the Insanity Workout, people get fired up, impatient, determined to get radical results today. They can’t wait, they’ve got the fever, they need to start as badly as drowning people need to breath. But then, a few weeks later, they’re done. Stop cold. Endless number of people go through this pattern. So what’s going on?

This is the dreaded third week slump phenomenon. What’s happening is this: people are fired up with initial enthusiasm, with a radical desire to effect immediate change, and when they begin the workout, that enthusiasm carries them through the first couple of weeks without a problem. The harder the challenge the better, the more they suffer the more righteous they feel.

Until the third week hits, and then novelty wears off. The radical changes have failed to manifest as quickly as they would like. They’re sore, bored, grouchy and tired of the effort. The change of lifestyle was too radical, and frankly, working out is really hard work. So, they miss a workout, then two, and then they let it all go and glumly conclude that the workout was wrong, they’re not good enough, it wasn’t meant to be, they have other priorities, anything and everything.

Why does this happen? What’s the root cause of this behavior? It’s actually quite simple. What it comes down to is unrealistic expectations. People approach these workouts like quick fixes. A sprint, instead of a marathon. Their desires for change is a manifestation of crisis, a sudden eruption, a panicky feeling that if they don’t change NOW they won’t change at all.

What this represents isn’t a mature determination that takes into account the reality of what a workout can do for you, but rather a desire for quick fix. And working out can’t give that to you. You need to sink in about two to three months of hard work to effect change, which is why workouts like P90X and the Insanity Workout are exactly that long.

So how do you avoid this pitfall? How do you ensure from the get-go that you are going to be successful and last the full three months? The best way is to approach working out like a habit such as brushing your teeth. Make it a part of your routine, and then… focus on something else. Relax. Stop anxiously monitoring your weight, how many reps you can do. Leave that kind of focus for when you’re solidly locked in. In the beginning, the best thing you can do is to simply focus on the long term. Understand that we’re speaking months, not weeks, that there is no ‘miracle fix’ and that you need to pay your dues with sweat and labor and effort.

The third week slump. If you’re just starting a workout, focus on that week, make it your enemy, and bull right through it. If you’re past it, congratulations. You’re well on your way to making working out a habit that will stick with you for life. And if you quit during your third week? Hopefully you understand a little better now as to why all your feverish dreams from a few weeks back just fell apart.