Setting attainable, realistic fitness goals for the New Year

New Year’s is one of my favourite holidays of the year. Kind of an odd ritual when you think about it; time doesn’t stop, the world doesn’t suddenly change overnight yet we generally have an entirely new outlook on the days ahead. Our perception of this even leaves us supercharged and full of vigour, a focused energy to strive toward new goals, dreams, ambitions, achievements. This is a massive time of growth for the fitness industry.

One statistic I came across suggested that only 12% of people who set New Year’s resolutions will reach them. By the end of February more than 60% of resolutions have been abandoned and by the end of June this swells to over 80%.

I can’t imagine that any of us look ourselves in the mirror and thinks, “I’m excited about setting this goal knowing that I’m going to fail.” Yet the likelihood of this reality is significant. I hope with each column I write, at any time of year, that many more of you will be empowered to beat the statistics.

There is an acronym that’s been used for effective goal setting for a long time; this New Year’s I’d like you to set a SMART goal. Here’s the breakdown on what SMART stands for and how to use it.

Specific – All goals must be as specific as possible, written down and reviewed often. It’s not enough to say “I want to lose weight and tone up.” A specific goal would be, “I am going to lose 30 lbs, three pant sizes and be able to run 10 kms by the end of April 2012.”

Measureable – Define how you will measure and how often you will measure. For the above goal this individual should commit to weighing on Fridays, trying on the goal pants at the end of each month and every week to two weeks completing a long distance run to see how progress is coming. By tracking weight, if they can fit into the pants and recording running distances they have effective measurement metrics to know whether they are progressing to their goal.

Attainable – This letter in the acronym can be interpreted differently. In my interpretation of attainable I teach that each goal must be reverse engineered. Attainability is dependent upon breaking it down into short periods of weeks or days and outlining the baby steps you will need to complete in each of these micro periods to reach your goal. These micro-periods play to our emotional side making commitment easier because it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly long. For example based on our above goal to lose an average of two lbs per week one suggestion would be to complete about 45-75 min/day of cardiovascular activity, this will also help with the secondary goal of running 10 km. Each micro-period might be one week where it will be important that at least five of the seven days I complete 45-75 minutes of sustained cardiovascular exercise. Just checking that off my list each day will be a small victory that feels good reinforcing me to greater likelihood of reaching my final goal.

Realistic – This point in your goal setting is a point of review. Your goal must be realistic in the sense that it must fit your current lifestyle habits; or that you’ve planned for an appropriate period of time and baby steps to adapt to it. People often say they lack willpower but this is inaccurate. Emotionally if we become discouraged or resentful toward a goal it’s our body protecting itself from us trying to force it to adapt too fast. A realistic goal is one that encompasses a pattern of adaptation that you will find reasonable, comfortable and manageable. For instance if you know you need to complete 45-75 minutes of cardiovascular activity per day starting at what’s comfortable (say 10 minutes) and adding two minutes every third day may seem like no big deal at all. This would be my definition of a realistic plan for reaching your goal.

Time – The final step for creating an effective goal is finalizing a timeline. Based on the steps above you should now have a pretty definitive plan for what you want to do, broken down into what you need to do. That’s then broken down into the baby steps that will make it all a reality. The timeline could really read ‘deadline’, and it needs to be taken seriously. Set a defined date with a real risk and reward that waits for you and don’t let yourself off the hook. Plan a special event with your spouse or friends, plan to wear the new pants that are three sizes smaller, tell someone about it or write a basic contract as a form of greater commitment and accountability.

Effective goal planning takes a little time. I suggest you don’t complete your SMART goal plan all in one sitting. Just jot everything down quickly completing each step, then come back to it later that day or the next and review and revise. Review and revise one more time and you will be amazed at how much easier the little ideas and details will come that will ensure you know what you need to do, how you need to do it and it won’t seem nearly as daunting. As a final step visit us on facebook and tell us your New Year’s resolution and deadline. www.facebook.com/personaltrainingreddeer.

Cabel McElderry is the director of One-to-1 Fitness in Red Deer. He can be reached at 403-341-4041. Also check out www.personaltrainingreddeer.com for more information.

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