Sustaining Your New Year’s Resolution Momentum: The Power to NOT Fall Off the Wagon
By Rachel Morrison, Certified Personal Trainer
For many of us, New Year’s resolutions have become synonymous with health and fitness goals. But come February, the majority of people who make health related goals will fall off the wagon. Let’s step back for a moment to talk about goal setting. Carefully examining the goal itself is critical to setting ourselves up for success. We have the best chance of achieving our goals when we set SMART ones:
1) Specific: Goals should be clearly defined, easy to understand and should include the plan of action for accomplishing them. We set goals, designate the “end” we are aiming for, but we often don’t clearly plan how we will get there – the “means.” It is very easy to say “I want to lose 20 lbs,” or “I want to reduce my body fat by 5%.” But if we stop there, the chances of achieving our goals are extremely slim.
2) Measureable: Goals need to be quantifiable so that we can assess progress towards them. Rather than setting goals like “I want to get healthy,” “I want to lose weight and look more fit,” or “I want to get in shape,” try “I want to lose 10 lbs and reduce my body fat by 5% in 3 months,” or “I want to work out for an hour 5 times a week at a high intensity” (sustaining an elevated heart rate).
3) Attainable: Goals should be challenging but not extreme. They should push us to grow personally as well as physically without leading to injury or over training.
4) Realistic: Goals should represent an end towards which we are able and willing to work. We have to both be able to believe that our goals are achievable and be willing to take the steps required to get there. For example, it would be unrealistic to set a goal of losing 25 lbs. in 2 months, or of losing weight without being willing to attack nutrition.
5) Timely: We need deadlines for our goals in order to stay motivated and sustain progress towards them. Try setting goals for months in the future, but not too distant future.
Why is it so difficult to stick to our plans and follow through? While everyone is different, examining the criteria above can help us analyze our goals and see what might be missing. This can help get us on the right track to recommitting to our goals this month. If you feel yourself slipping, get out a pen and paper and literally write down your goal and check it against the above criteria. Then think about the past month and ask yourself, what has gone well? What have been your biggest challenges? Do you really have an action plan for every day of the week that corresponds realistically to your end goal? If you feel like you don’t know enough to make the action plan, do some research, ask a trainer, find a workout buddy, or see a nutritionist. Sometimes it is hard to admit we need help or that our plan isn’t working. People who successfully accomplish their goals constantly reevaluate and tweak their plans as needed while at the same time maintaining focus on the end.
This is the hard, concrete business of setting goals and getting there. But we also have to be honest with ourselves about the extremely emotional nature of the process. Consistency and sustainability depend highly on the personal capacity for self-awareness about every choice we make. Staying focused means having the strength to ask yourself in every moment, “Is this piece of chocolate cake/temporary satisfaction worth not making progress towards my goal today?” This doesn’t mean that you should not build in occasional “cheats” so that you don’t end up in a deprivation/binge cycle. But be intentional about it – choose that Saturday you are going to let yourself have one cookie, but stay away from sugar the rest of the week, for example. Build in a rest day when you don’t exercise and spend time with friends so that you don’t start resenting the gym. Intentionality is the name of the game!
Last but not least, get your friends and family on board. Studies show that people who have the support of those around them have a better chance of achieving their goals. So tell your friends how important it is to you to stick to your workout plan instead of going to happy hour and plan to hang out with them
another time that doesn’t interfere with the gym. It is much easier to set expectations up front rather than having to say no every time you are tempted.
Assess yourself often, take pride in each success, and tweak your plan when things go wrong. You really can do this – make 2014 a year to remember!