Finding that New Year’s resolution that’s actually realistic and achievable is a terrifically normal question asked by nearly everyone at the end of every year — myself included. I begin each year by doing some sort of workout challenge, and each year it gets a bit more difficult! But, I’ve learned that there are several ways that we can increase our odds for success.
First, let’s look at a few of the most common “mistakes” that people make when declaring a New Year’s resolution:
IT’S TOO VAGUE! Don’t get me wrong, the intention is there. It’s fantastic that you want to create some positive change. However, we must get more specific. Here are a few examples that are unclear, indefinite, and undefined: I want to get in shape this year. I want to lose weight this year. I want to eat healthier this year. While the idea is great, this type of broad language leaves us with no direction — how do you plan to to accomplish any of these? What does “in shape” mean? How much weight do you want to lose? And what is it about your intake/nutrition that you want to change? We must drill down and get into the details, so that our goal and our achievement are measurable. Then, once we achieve that specific goal, then we should reward ourselves and reassess how we should adjust our goals for the next time period. This leads us to No. 2.
IT’S TOO LONG! So many folks want to do better, but they declare a New Year’s Resolution for the entire year: In 2022 I will lose 30 pounds. Again, that’s a good intention, but 12 months is FAR too long for a sustainable and achievable goal. Our human nature of procrastination will have us stalling until the fall to get serious and then try to cram in a diet and exercise and try to lose the weight. Well, that’s what we think, anyway, or what we tell ourselves. In reality, we’ll likely never give up those same habits that added the extra fat to our frames in the first place — so that in a year’s time we’ll have 35 pounds to lose!
Sorry, just some real talk there (did it just get awfully quiet in here?). Instead, we must start with a short-term goal. I always suggest three weeks because a lot of research points to approximately 21 days of performing a new behavior to create a new habit. I believe that’s a bit different for each of us because each body is unique, and we all have our own stuff going on. Declaring a short-term goal is a pill that is much easier to swallow than a yearlong marathon. To use the “30-pounds in a year” example above, the simplest way to set that goal would be to do the math and realize that losing two pounds in three weeks would start to create the right habits for losing the 30 pounds in 52 weeks. Yes, that should be relatively easy also, since losing one to two pounds per week is considered safe and attainable — but we want the first three weeks to be a slam dunk, right? So …
DON’T MAKE IT TOO DIFFICULT! Let’s be nice to ourselves and stack the odds in our favor! To reframe your thought process — put yourself in my shoes as a sports performance coach or a personal trainer. Would I set goals for a client that are so hard to achieve that they are likely to get discouraged and quit? Of course not — I’d be a terrible trainer and would be deemed a failure.
So why do we do that to ourselves? Declaring an overly ambitious goal almost guarantees we’ll quit. I haven’t lifted weights since high school, but my New Year’s resolution is that I want to bench-press 300 pounds. I can’t swim but I will take some lessons and then complete the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. I’ve eaten fast-food everyday for years, but I will quit cold turkey and never eat another French fry! No, no, and no.
Remember the slam dunk from above! We need to set ourselves up for success — and start strong. The first three weeks of creating a fitness lifestyle are critical — we build confidence, create momentum, and establish the crucial GOOD habits that replace the bad habits. Using the bench press example, instead of that long-term goal of benching 300 pounds (which may never actually be achievable depending upon quite a few factors, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing), start slow and be realistic. If you’ve not exercised in a long time, then maybe your goal should be to go for a 20-minute walk each day for the first week, add in a couple of calisthenics/stretching workouts the second week, and then build onto that the third week. As we’ve discussed in previous Ask Andy articles, the most important factor in creating positive change is consistency — and consistently getting good exercise every day is far better for your body than going to the gym and trying to get the world’s greatest workout on day one! You’ll end up extremely sore (or worse, injured) and discouraged. Especially at the beginning, we must set a goal that is realistic and easy to achieve. Success builds upon success!
This list is not exhaustive, but it gives us a great start to declaring a New Year’s Resolution that we will keep – AND build upon again and again. An easy way to remember this is the 3 S’s, or “SSS.” Your goal must be Specific, Short-term, and Simple to achieve. Each time you “win,” you are actually creating good habits — do that cycle several times in a row, and those habits become your lifestyle, and that’s where your positive changes become permanent.