As 2013 ticks to a close, we sort through ideas for resolutions, and millions of us will settle on a fitness goal. The University of Scranton Journal of Psychology listed the top ten resolutions for Americans 2014, and two of the top five are fitness goals: #1 is Lose Weight and #5 is Staying Fit and Healthy. They also stated that less than half of people who set resolutions will achieve them, but that those who make resolutions are ten times more likely to achieve their goal than those who don’t. What does that mean? Setting a goal is a great first step, but achieving that goal will still take a lot of work. The following tips can be applied to any goal or resolution, not just health and fitness.
Be specific: “Stay fit and healthy” is a great general goal, but it’s so vague that it’s hard to know what that really means. A more specific goal will sound something like, “Run an eight minute mile by August 1st,” or “Lose two pant sizes.”
Be realistic: If losing weight is your goal, set a number, and make it reasonable. Real, healthy weight loss is not about speed. Losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is considered a healthy rate, meaning you’re actually burning fat and building muscle, so set a number that follows that guide. “Lose 20 pounds in January” is specific, but it’s not realistic. If 1 to 2 pounds per week sounds too slow to be worth it, just do the math: 2 lbs/week x 4 weeks = 8 lbs a month. 8 lbs/month x 12 months = 96 lbs in a year.
Be forgiving: So often we set a goal with the intention of whipping ourselves into shape, breaking bad habits and forming healthy new ones, but in doing so we set unfair expectations on ourselves then spiral back into bad habits because of disappointment. The US Dept of Health and Human Services gives this example:
“Walk 5 miles every day” is specific and measurable, but is it achievable when you’re just starting out? “Walk 30 minutes every day” is more attainable, but what happens when you’re held up at work one day and there’s a thunderstorm during your walking time on another day? “Walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week” is specific achievable and forgiving. A great goal!
With that in mind, put the scale away and don’t step on it more than one time per week. Weight can fluctuate so much from day to day that micromanaging numbers can lead to disappointment and depression, making it very hard to stick out the hard weeks.
TIPS FOR ACHIEVING YOUR FITNESS GOALS:
Write it down: Tape a notecard to your mirror, make a note on your white board, text a friend, write a blog post, send out a Tweet, start a journal. Something about moving a goal from being a thought to writing it or even speaking it aloud helps create a commitment to that goal. The goal transforms from an amorphous blob of ambition to a concrete idea when you make yourself form it into a sentence.
Break it down: Break your fitness goal into manageable chunks with checkpoints. Is your goal to eat more healthy food? Set a smaller, achievable goal of limiting fast food to a certain number of days in a month, or decide to try one new, healthy recipe per week. Smaller sub-goals give you lots of opportunities to succeed as well as course correct.
Create accountability: I’ve never been a fast runner, but I wanted to improve. My (modest) goal was a 28 minute 5k, and I finally reached it when I started texting my weekly 5k times to my sister and my friend. They were not trying to reach the same goal, but getting a “well done” or “you’re getting there” text in return was a huge mental boost. I don’t know why it works, but it does. Keep a journal, start a blog, text a friend, or get a gym buddy.
Reward success: Working toward being healthier isn’t like painting a room from white to black where a few hours of effort leads to drastic results. It’s more like painting a white room off white, then eggshell, then light gray, then medium gray etc etc. It’s a lot of work, and while the difference from day 1 to day 365 is huge, the difference you make from day 75 to day 76 may look like a lot of work for nothing noticeable. Give yourself other fun things to work toward, even if totally unrelated. For example, is there a a new movie you want to see? Reward yourself with a theater trip if you reached your goal of going for a walk five days in one week. I’m always a fan of spa days.
FITNESS GOAL IDEAS FOR 2014:
Run a mile without stopping
Learn to cook ten different “clean” dinners the family enjoys
Sign up for, train for, and complete a 5k
Exercise 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week or more
Eat a protein-filled breakfast 3 days a week or more
Eight hours of sleep at least three nights a week
Follow these tips when deciding your fitness goals for 2014 and your chances of success will be much greater.