Did you vow to “finally start getting in shape” at the end of last year? You’re not alone—a 2014 study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that out of the 45% of Americans who made New Year’s resolutions, “lose weight” and “stay fit and healthy” were both in the top 10. We’re almost three months into 2015 (that’s about one quarter of the year gone, by the way). Are you still heading to the gym with the same enthusiasm you had on January 1st? If so, are you noticeably fitter? And how are you defining “fit,” anyway?
I’ve seen a lot of clients whose ambitions outrun their ability to set a plan. One of the biggest hurdles to improving your fitness isn’t laziness, or even willpower. It’s poor goal setting.
Right here, right now, outline the loftiest fitness achievement you want to claim at the end of your life—an overarching theme to your life, if you like. What’s the ultimate version of you? And what role does fitness play in this theme? Do you want to be an Olympian, a marathon finisher, look sexy in a cocktail dress, or simply own the title of strongest guy in the nursing home? Make it something that when it’s all said and done, you can look back and be proud of what you accomplished.
Now it’s time to turn this aspiration into a tangible, measurable accomplishment. When your goal is inadequately defined, if articulated at all, it’s both a waste of your time and impossible to achieve. This could be why the same study reported that only 8% of people who make resolutions are successful. Take some time to decide what you really want so you can make measured progress and actually change your life. Don’t just spin your wheels.
Write your goal down.
Be specific. If your target is vague, you’ll have trouble defining success. And you’ll get frustrated without something concrete to dedicate yourself to.
So quantify it. Specific goals can actually help keep you motivated. Think of it as a yes/no question: Do you want to bang out 10 pull-ups in a row? Or be capable of squatting twice your body weight? Are you getting 30 minutes of exercise four times a week? Either you did it or you didn’t. By setting a clear, measurable goal, you’re setting yourself up to succeed.
Assess your baseline.
If you want to accomplish your goal, be brutally realistic. No, seriously. Be honest and objective from Day 1. If you set an overly ambitious goal, you’ll try to do too much too soon. Either you’ll burn yourself out in the first month, or you’ll get injured and put your training on hold while you rehabilitate. Unless you’re already injured and ducking your physical therapist’s calls, “I want to start doing PT” isn’t an acceptable goal.
Again, put a number next to where you are so you can check your progress. If you can’t do one pull-up, can you get to 10? It’s possible, but it won’t happen overnight. If you give yourself false hope, prepare to be disappointed.
Scale your expectations (and your goal) accordingly. When you can see and measure the difference your training is making, you have a reason to keep chasing that target.
Create a time frame.
Giving yourself a deadline helps keep you accountable and moving forward. There are short-term and long-term goals; long-term goals can be broken into smaller milestones. If you vow, “I’m going to lose weight this year,” a) that’s not specific; b) you’ll probably leave the work until right after Thanksgiving, then panic and crash diet or live at the gym for the month of December. Give yourself a few weeks to a month for your first micro-goal—maybe “lose 4 pounds in 4 weeks.” You’ll have time to see results, but it’s not so far in the distant future that you can slack off.
Decide how you want to measure your progress towards your goal.
Evaluating whether you’re on track to your overall theme helps to gauge your progress against your baseline and your goal. You need to know if you’re getting better or not. Fitness is a numbers game. Setting checkpoints along your timeframe can be encouraging…or a wake-up call.
If you’re way ahead of schedule, pick a loftier goal. If you haven’t made significant strides, be prepared to make a new plan. Or change your goal. This is typically where most people get discouraged and quit. But before you throw in the towel, remember this: change is hard. It takes time. You’ll slip and skip a workout, or have a milkshake for breakfast. Your goal isn’t a reality—yet. That doesn’t mean it’ll never happen.
Even if you aren’t where you want to be, you have made progress. You’ve already made a change by getting out there and doing something. Now it’s time to take all that positive momentum and redirect it into something more effective. Don’t get stuck in the rut of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Albert Einstein did NOT say this was the definition of insanity, by the way. But if something isn’t working for you, why keep doing it? You don’t want to wait until the end of your time frame to discover that you’re not on the path to success.
That said: if you are hitting your milestones, celebrate your progress. Give yourself a pat on the back. Treat your aching muscles to a massage.
Then get back to work. You’re not there—yet. You’ll get your victory lap at the end.
Create the plan to achieve your goal.
If you want your goal to stick, commit to a specific program and carve out a schedule. This plan should be all-inclusive. What do you need to be capable of to be on-track in one year? What should you be capable of in 6 months, in 1 month, in 1 week, today, and right now?
If you have trouble holding yourself accountable, hire a trainer (ahem) and commit to regular sessions. An appointment with someone who motivates you can help get you over your inertia.
Integrate the goal as part of your life.
Your physical activity is only an hour out of your day, on average. That’s just 4% of your day. If you want to see your goal become a reality, look outside the gym. This is where your intention starts to come into play. A goal isn’t an isolated event in your day or something that you make on December 31st. It’s a daily process. It represents a change in your lifestyle.
Have the intention of changing your life. Look at your regular activities through the lens of your goal. Will an extra glass of wine tonight help or hurt your cause? Every decision plays a role, and every choice you make adds up, and at the end they either tip the balance toward success or failure. Will a decision you make today affect your results six months from now? Yes, yes it will.
It’s my mission to help my clients create positive change in their lives. Don’t want to be part of the 92% of people who abandon their resolutions before they reach them? Great. Let’s nudge that 8% national success rate a little higher.