I’ve spent a lot of time in gyms over the last 8 years or so, both as an employee and as a customer. Every January, commercial gyms around the US are flooded with new members kicking off the new year with “get in shape resolutions.” By mid-February (at the latest), 95% of these people have disappeared. Why is it that so many start off the year with good intentions, only to fail to meet their goals inside a month? How can we improve this?
They Aren’t Specific
“Get in shape” is an extremely nebulous goal. What does “in shape” mean? How do you know when you get there? How to you judge progress?
They Aren’t Realistic
“Go to the gym every day” sounds good in theory, but how often did you make it to the gym last year? Unrealistic goals are a fast track to feeling guilty and falling off the wagon. Realistic goals also leave you room to set a new, stronger goal, once you are able to hit the first.
They Aren’t Process Oriented
“Lose 20 pounds” might be more specific than other goals, but it contains no information on how you’re going to achieve it. Goals made around processes, rather than outcomes, are easier to stick with.
So, how do we set a good New Year’s Resolution?
Let’s look at some better examples, which are specific, realistic, and process oriented.
For a non-gym-goer looking to get into the gym regularly: “Go to the gym from 6-7pm on Mondays and Thursdays during the month of January, splitting my time 50/50 between weight training and interval training.” This goal is specific – it tells you exactly when to go. It’s realistic – you’re only promising 2 days per week. And it’s process oriented – it’s about an action, not an outcome. If you hit your goal in January (with 90% success), think about increasing your frequency to three days in February.
For someone looking to lose fat: “Switch from drinking full-sugar sodas to diet.” or “Eat two handfuls of fresh veggies with each of my three meals every day.” These are each both specific and realistic. Both can be built upon as you see success.
How Confident Are You That You Can Do That?
I’m stealing this concept from Precision Nutrition, because I think it’s great. Before starting on any goal, ask yourself, “On a scale from 1 to 10, how confident am I that I can meet this goal?” If you aren’t a 9 or a 10, make your goal easier!
If you’re only a 6 that you can go to the gym twice a week, make it once a week.
If you’re a 4 that you can eat two handfuls of veggies with every meal, focus on doing it only one meal a day.
When you’ve established a habit from your goal, pick a new, more challenging goal (an extra day at the gym or an additional serving of veggies).
For more on this idea from Precision Nutrition, check out their Compliance Solution series of videos. They’re aimed at coaches, but the concepts can be applied to yourself as well.
Set Some Good Goals
Armed with this info, you should be able to restart your New Year’s Resolution on the right foot. Make sure the goal is specific, realistic, and process oriented. Make sure you are extremely confident than you can hit your goal. Once you hit it, set a new, bigger goal! Work up to bigger goals, and watch your body (and life) transform.