There’s nothing quite like a brand new year for people to start thinking about change and new beginnings. However, changing behaviour can be very difficult – and at the risk of quoting statistics found on the internet – apparently 25% of New Year’s Resolutions are broken in the first week, and only 8% of those people who make resolutions actually achieve them. Those are some bad odds.
So forget resolutions… and instead let’s talk about goal setting – and there is a very important difference. Resolutions tend to be broad and far-reaching, like, “I want to start running again”, “I want to lose weight”, or “I want to be more positive this year”. Goal setting is powerful because it provides focus. Specific, realistic and attainable goals are key and the lack thereof is probably why many resolutions fail so miserably.
Here are some tips for goal setting, whether it be at this New Year’s juncture, or whenever you decide to start a new project, fitness goal or change in behaviour.
1. Most Important – Set Goals You Actually Want to Achieve
What is it that you really want to achieve? This is a loaded but very important question. Don’t set goals because some else is doing it, or because you think you ‘should’. If the drive doesn’t come from within, it will be very hard to keep up the motivation.
2. Start with One Goal / Break Goals Down
While changing any behaviour is difficult, trying to change or accomplish too many things at once requires an overwhelming and unrealistic amount of willpower and will likely lead to failure. Start with one goal, and once it is under control or achieved, start to plan the next. There is a great blog post detailing the advantages of making a new resolution or goal each month instead of each New Year to help train self-control and willpower to increase your chances of success.
Also, break large goals down into smaller shorter-term goals. Say your goal is to run a marathon or triathlon later this year… at the outset, it may seem too far-reaching and it will be easy to procrastinate. However, if you break the goal down into smaller goals, such as monthly distance milestones and strengthening goals, it will help you stay on track and manage the larger goal more effectively.
3. Recognize the Process and Actions of Achieving a Goal
In setting goals, sometimes it is important to take a step back and look at the actions that may be required to achieve the goal and make that the focus. For example, instead of “I want to lose weight”, focus on what you may need to do to bring about the change – make your goal “I will walk or swim for 30 minutes, 4 times a week”.
4. Make S.M.A.R.T goals
Taking into account all of the above, it is important to formulate S.M.A.R.T. goals – that is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
Specific: A goal that is specific has a much greater chance of being accomplished because there are clear boundaries and a clear end. Ask: Who, will do what, under what conditions, how well, by when?
Measurable: Ensure your goal has concrete criteria for measuring progress and completion. If your goal is to “get in better shape” or “lose weight”, how will you know when you are done? Ask: How much? How many? How will I know when I’m finished?
Attainable: Do you have the resources, attitudes, ability, skills, financial capacity etc. to achieve your goal?
Realistic: A goal that is not realistic can never be achieved. You must be both willing and able to work towards your goal. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
Timely: Ensure there is a specific time-frame for completing the goal. Without a deadline per se, there is no drive to ensure the best effort is put forth to achieve it. Give enough time, but not too much time, which can affect performance. Adjust to shorter-term goals if needed.
Overall, following these steps will change the way you set goals and increase your success of achieving them. For example:
|INSTEAD OF:||SMART GOAL:|
|“I want to start running again”||By January 31st, I will be able to run 5K continuously, by going for runs 3 times per week on Tues, Thurs and Sat, and increasing the time of continuous running by 2 minutes each session”.|
|“I want to lose weight”||“I will lose 7% of my body weight by March 1st, by eating smaller portions and by walking or swimming for at least 30 minutes, 4 times a week.|
5. Write Your Goals Down
It’s simple. Now that you’ve come up with your S.M.A.R.T. goal, write it down, pen to paper. There’s a certain commitment that comes with actually writing something down, rather than just thinking it. And be sure to place the paper somewhere you will see it daily to keep your focus.
6. Reflect / Allow for Setbacks / Reassess and Adjust
Setbacks are a natural part of behaviour change. Be willing to expect them and adjust to obstacles as they arise to get back on track. And be sure to reassess and adjust your goals as you go – in the example of training for a Sun Run or marathon, you will need to reach new targets as you progress in your training.
If you find that you didn’t quite reach your specific goal, be sure to reflect on the process. In the end, the most important benefit of goal setting may not actually be achieving it – the real benefit may be in what you have done and the changes you have made in working towards your goal. That is, if you didn’t quite reach your 20 pound weight loss goal, or the 10K running time you set, but you are now regularly exercising or have improved on your previous time, then you have made great progress. Focus on the positives and take this into account when re-setting your next goal.
One last important thought. If you achieve your goal, be sure to take a moment to feel good about your success and fully realize what you have accomplished. Too often we think that we always need to work harder in order to be more successful, and thus we continually move the goal posts once we’ve achieved them. There is a great TED Talk on happiness which touches on this topic – (skip to 9:14 for the specific section, but the rest of the talk is great, even if the presenter speaks too fast!) – your brain works better when you are positive, so take the time to reflect on your successes.