The New Year offers us a great opportunity to embrace change. While around 50% of us make resolutions in January, barely any of us (a measly 8%!) maintain those changes for a year, let alone turn those changes into positive lifelong habits. Setting goals is admirable, but what does it take to actually stick to your goals?
Here are three big reasons why it can be hard to stick to your goals, along with some handy tips on how to set yourself up for success:
1. Making the Same Resolution Every Year
By making, and then breaking, the same goals over and over, you’re engaging in psychological sabotage. So if you find yourself stuck in a rut of making the same resolution every January 1st and not following through, it’s time for a change.
Take some time to think seriously about the change(s) you want to make and why. There’s no shame in admitting that some things just aren’t your priority and doing so can free up your mental energy to develop healthy habits that do work for you.
Does your typical new year resolution include fitness? Then think about what this really means to you. It’s likely to be different for everyone, and there are many ways to achieve this goal. For example:
- Able to walk up stairs without feeling breathless
- Run a 5 km charity race in under 45 minutes
- Lift your own body weight at the gym
- Able to keep up with the kids on their bikes while on vacation
Narrow in on a specific goal and use it to set a series of smaller, achievable targets, and create a plan to reach them. This is a great start to help enable you to stick to your goals!
2. Making Your Goals Too General
Nothing hampers success like a moving target, and most new year’s resolutions are vague and rather elusive. As noted above specificity is key, otherwise, how will you know when you’re on track or have achieved your goal?
SMART people know that acronyms can be a real help. As such, make sure your goals are:
For example, instead of saying “I want to lose weight this year,” resolve to lose a realistic, achievable, safe amount of weight each week for the next 52 weeks. Better still, resolve to get your body fat percentage down by 10%.
Set up a way to measure your progress and figure out a plan to get you there. This could include cutting down portion sizes by a third, eating more plant foods to increase your fiber intake, or cutting out major sources of saturated fat and sugar.
3. Losing Track, and Motivation
Imagine your goal for the year is a town called “Happiness” far off in the distance. You can’t see the town’s lights yet, but you know it’s there and you want to find it. On January 1st you set off at full speed towards the horizon but you soon lose your way, forget where you started, grow dispirited, and end up snacking at a roadside fruit stand before heading back home.
Now, think about how you can develop a better (or any!) strategy to get to Happiness. Instead of just going full tilt without a plan, consult your map and lay out some goals. Get specific. Set up mile markers at reasonable points along that road and focus on those instead of the far off, and intimidating end goal. This works for fitness goals, spending goals, weight loss (or gain) goals, and also for career and relationship goals.
How to Set Specific Goals
As an example, if your dream goal is to run 15 km in less than 100 minutes in a November charity race, set yourself specific weekly running goals based on your current level of fitness† and a schedule you can stick to, such as the one outlined below.
By setting specific, realistic, achievable, measurable goals on a timeline, that 15 km charity run in under 100 minutes is totally doable, even for a novice runner.
Training Schedule for Novice Runner
For a novice runner, a training schedule needs to be detailed, such as the one below:
- Weeks 1 and 2: 1 km twice a week and 2 km on weekends
- Weeks 3 and 4: 2 km twice a week and 3 km on weekends
- Weeks 5 and 6: 3 km twice a week and 4 km on weekends
- Weeks 7 and 8: 4 km twice a week and 5 km on weekends (celebrate your first 5 km run!)
- Weeks 9 and 10: 5 km twice a week and 6 km on weekends
- Weeks 11 and 12: 6 km twice a week and 7 km on weekends
- Week 13 (early April): 7 km twice a week and a 5 km charity race at the weekend
- Week 14: 7 km twice a week and 8 km on weekends
- Weeks 15 and 16: 8 km twice a week and 9 km on weekends
- Weeks 17 and 18: 9 km twice a week and 10 km on weekends (celebrate your first 10 km run!)
- Weeks 19, 20, and 21: 10 km twice a week and 11 km on weekends
- Week 22 (early June): 11 km twice a week and a 10 km charity run on the weekend
- Weeks 23 and 24: 12 km twice a week and 13 km on the weekend
- Weeks 25 and 26: 13 km twice a week and 14 km on the weekend
- Weeks 27 and 28: 14 km twice a week and 15 km on the weekend (celebrate getting to 15 km!)
- Weeks 29 and 30: 15 km twice a week and 16 km on the weekend
- Weeks 31 to 36 (early September): 15 km three times a week (aim for a run-time of less than 140 minutes)
- Weeks 37 to 42: 15 km three times a week (aim for a run-time of less than 120 minutes)
- Weeks 43 to 45: 15 km three times a week (aim for a run-time of less than 100 minutes)
- Week 46 (mid November): 15 km charity race (run time less than 100 minute).
You’re All Set!
The final thing to take note of is that getting fit and losing weight are two separate things. If you want to do both, tackle them as distinct goals with separate milestones and strategies. Also, be aware that getting fit means building muscle, which could mean you gain lean body weight. As such, a better goal pair would be to “run 10 km in under an hour’ and ‘decrease body fat by 10%.”
†Always consult with a qualified health professional if you are unsure before starting a new exercise program.