As a new year approaches, there is a sense of optimism and renewed hope for being a better version of ourselves. We set new fitness, financial, or personal goals with the idea that this will be our year. Two weeks into January however, and we find it more difficult than expected. We see this time and time again with goal setting, especially in things such as weight loss. An individual comes into the new year with a goal of losing X amount of pounds, but unfortunately sets their bar too high and unrealistic, which results in over training, becoming sore, and ultimately getting discouraged after a few attempts at the gym. We all have great plans, and things we would like to accomplish this new year, but there is a science to goal-setting, and most of us are not aware of how to properly set goals, and more importantly, how stick to them. Here, we will talk about a few tips on ways to create a new year’s resolution that is more research based and more likely to get you on the path to success, whatever success means to you.
START WITH WHAT, WHY, AND HOW
The first thing you need to do is to set some time aside for yourself to sit down, grab a pen and paper, and honestly reflect on two questions:
What would I like to do less of in this coming new year?
What would I like to do more of in this coming new year?
Under each question, make a list of the things that come to mind when answering them. For example, under the “less” category you might put less social media, being less sedentary, or cut down on alcohol. This is to weed out and make you more aware of the things that you feel are not making you better. One or two of the items in your list will stick out more, so take note of which ones are more emotionally charged. Once you know what you don’t want to do, we can move on to adding behaviours. So for the “more” category, perhaps you would like to workout more, or do more things that scare you. Again, take note of which items speak to you the most. You can even prioritize or rank these items. This may time some reflection and introspection, but it is the most fundamental part of starting your goal-setting journey.
Once you have selected one or two key goals, try and make it into a concrete statement. For example, your “less” category might be to be less sedentary, and your “more” might have been to be more fit. So with that in mind, your goal might be to “be more physically active, healthy, and fit”. Unfortunately, most people’s goal setting starts and ends here, but we need to get even more specific. What does “being fit” mean to you? Is it being more healthy? Faster, stronger, leaner? Why do you want to be more fit? Because of societal pressures, friends, or coaches? Trim the unnecessary fat surrounding your goal and get to the root. So let’s say you reflected upon this and decided you would like to trim a few pounds because it would make you feel more confident. Great. But let’s dive deeper. Your goals need some sort of measuring stick and method of gauging progress. How many pounds do you want to lose? Is this realistic? The biggest problem with new gym goers in the new year is that they set way too vague, and unrealistic goals for themselves. Telling yourself you want to just be more fit is too general, and setting a goal of losing 50 pounds in a month is just not going to happen. Research shows the more we focus on the things that imply growth, and are within our control, the more likely we are to follow through. If you follow this blog, you might recall the term outcome versus process goals. Outcome goals are our big, long-term, results based goals, such as losing weight, or quitting drinking. The problem with outcomes goals however, is that they are not 100% inside of our control, as there are multiple factors that affect it. The process goals however, are within our control. They are the how-to goals which lead up to, or increase our chances of reaching the outcome. Think of it this way; What is more stressful, cleaning the entire house, or just cleaning the dishes? You might have an outcome goal of cleaning the whole house, but that in itself can be overwhelming. So by breaking the goal down into smaller, more manageable pieces, such as cleaning the dishes, sweeping, then doing laundry (process goals) our brain is less stressed and instead gets a nice hit of dopamine by accomplishing the smaller, more achievable goals. So to help with this, we need to break up your outcome goal into smaller little steps.
100 DAY PLAN
Although this new goal of yours is intended to be for the year, we are not going to concern ourselves with what it will be like come Dec. 31st. All we want to focus on for your goals is the small baby steps that get you to your destination. Baby steps are within our control. When Neil Armstrong first learned how to walk as a baby, he didn’t focus on making them on the moon just yet! So to keep our mind on the controllables, and on the process, take your big outcome goal and break it down into what you need to do to accomplish it in just the next 100 days. Not 6 months, or a year, just the next 100 days. Pick 10 things that are within your control that will help you get closer to the outcome. It might look something like this:
GENERAL OUTCOME GOAL = Become more physically active, healthy, and fit (encompasses your values)
SPECIFIC OUTCOME GOAL = Lose 20 pounds in the next 100 days (specific & measurable)
10 THINGS NEEDED TO GET ME CLOSER TO THIS GOAL:
Work out 3 times a week (gym + run outside)
Track my calorie intake (spreadsheet, apps)
Track my weight weekly (to measure progress)
Stay positive and know that small progress is still progress!
Furthermore, it is important to pick three (3) dates during the next 100 days in which you will gauge and evaluate your progress. For example, 25, 50, and 75 days in you will come back to your goal-setting plan and reflect on where you are at. Perhaps 50 days in you see that the goal is too challenging, and so you make your goal more flexible by giving it a range (14-20 pounds). Or maybe you are ahead of schedule and would like to challenge yourself by pushing it further up. The 3 dates you choose are probably more important than the goal itself, as it is crucial to sit down and reflect on what is going well, and what perhaps needs to be adjusted. Most individuals have goals in mind, but it is the act of coming back to it and reflecting on how far you have come that will make it sustainable. After the 100 days are up, you reflect again, and set a new goal for next 100 days. So essentially you break down your yearly goal into 3 (with change) periods or sections, which is much easier to process. Your goals will evolve and change throughout the 365 days of the new year, so that is why setting one big vague goal at the start is not really effective. Our brains like smaller chunks of information, and so make every 100 days your “new year”.
The New Zealand All Blacks rugby team does a similar “100 day plan” with the entire team, where they sit down together and come up with 10 things they would like to accomplish together. Every week, they sit down and reflect on what has been done, what needs to be adjusted, and anything else pertaining to the objective. With this simple, but very effective strategy, the All Blacks have an over 77% win record in the last 100 years. With a little reflection, dedication, and trusting the process, your win record can be up there as well. Start with reflecting upon what winning/success actually means to you, why you want to do it, and how you can start your journey today (It doesn’t have to be Jan. 1st!).
Good luck and have a happy new year!