Every January 1st, big brands predictably use a health and fitness spin to market products to the world. Everybody’s got a deal on gear, equipment, or some type of subscription, banking off the idea that we (also predictably) will resolve to be healthier than we were the year before. And many of us give into it all the time. Resolutions are made, we buy and subscribe to that shit, and by February it’s back to those old ways. And then it becomes the “I don’t make New Year's resolutions anymore” song.
So how do we avoid going backwards? First, those resolutions (from here on I’m gonna call them goals) are probably just thoughts in your head. Write them down so you can see them, review them often, and check off your accomplishments as you make them. This will give you motivation to continue when you feel like you aren’t progressing after a while. It’ll also be a tool to help you to evaluate yourself and adjust your strategy, if needed. Writing it down also makes it real. But, before you start writing your goals you have to evaluate yourself. Like, for real, be real with yourself. List at least three ways you want your quality of life to improve (pssst, this is your why). Then list some challenges you may face on your journey. From there you’ll build your goals.
Performance vs. Outcome goals
When planning your goals, you want to ensure that they are performance goals and not outcome goals. You have more control of your achievement with performance goals than you do with outcome goals. Setting outcome goals can leave you highly disappointed if they aren’t reached. For example, try striving for at least 8-10k steps daily or going to the gym at least 3 times out of the week instead of having a goal weight. *gasp* Yes. If you’re going for those steps you’ll likely see a change in weight if it’s accompanied with a change in eating habits. Having a goal weight may cause you to do anything to get there and more than likely it’s something you wouldn’t want to maintain once you’ve hit your goal weight (and possibly unsafe). If it’s something you wouldn’t want to continue or can’t wait to be finished with, you’ll probably be back to square one. Performance goals are also great because they allow room for growth. You can increase your step goal, increase the number of days you go to the gym, or take a new class at the gym once a week. Makes sense? You’re always progressing. As you grow, so should your goals and your plan. This means you don’t have to run like it’s the last lap when you’re fresh off the starting line. You’re gonna get there as long as you’re moving in the right direction. I should mention that outcome goals are fine once you’ve become consistent in your journey.
You also want to be smart about it. That’s smart and S.M.A.R.T. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic (this could also be Relevant) and Time-bound. Seems pretty easy, right? Let’s review it anyhow.
Setting SMART goals
Be very specific with your goals. Answer the questions: what do you want to accomplish and why? It should be spelled out clearly, remembering to focus on your performance and not an outcome. When I first started my fitness journey in 2017, my fitness goal was to reach 8k steps a day using my Fitbit. I had to get active. After a few days of wearing my Fitbit, I realized how little movement I was doing throughout the day. This was something I felt I could easily change to make progress toward my goal.
You want to be able to track your progress and know when you’ve reached your goal. How do you plan to track your progress? I was checking my Fitbit and the app (probably way too much) to keep track of how I was doing for the day. If you’re counting calories or keeping up with Macros MyFitnessPal is a great app for that. You’re able to sync it with your Fitbit app. Food journals are good as well. With journals, you’re not only able to log the foods you’ve eaten, but you can journal how you felt before eating (if it was related to your emotions) and how you felt physically afterwards. Learning how certain foods make you feel will help you to learn whether or not you should avoid those foods. Did it make you cramp, give you gas, or energize you? Make note of those things.
Can you put in the work to reach this goal and within the timeframe you’ve set for yourself? Review the list you created earlier detailing the possible challenges you may face and determine if this is something you can actually handle and maintain. Having a job where I sit at a desk all day made it very hard to get my steps in. To combat that, I would get to a stopping point at work and clear my mind by walking a few rounds in the parking deck. I would do this a few times a day. It helped me get ready for the Peachtree Road Race as well. Another challenge I had was my feet hurt like hell all the time. I knew where the pain derived from (my weight) so I pushed through it and would ice and massage when I needed it. I felt getting the weight off would alleviate the foot pain. I was right.
Realistic Do you have all the necessary resources or access to the resources needed? Are you knowledgeable? Is it safe? You don’t want injuries and you definitely don’t want to sacrifice nutrition for weight loss. Is this something you can stick with for the long haul? Because people, and hear me when I say this, consistency is key on your journey, but you need to enjoy it too. I mean, it is your journey. It should challenge you as much as it rewards you.
Relevant (A bonus point, but equally important)
Is fitness a personal goal or something someone else wants you to do? Are you doing this for acknowledgment and recognition from others or do you want to do this as a part of your personal growth? Are you trying to compete or keep up with someone? Are you chasing someone else's body goals? These are questions you should ask yourself. You want to remain motivated, and if it’s not something you truly want for yourself, you won’t be committed to it long. Remember, you’re putting in the effort so make sure it’s something you truly want.
Time-bound Give yourself a target date. This will help you stay focused and manage your time. Add a few checkpoints in between your start and target dates for reassessment. My first target date was 7/4/2017,the Peachtree Road Race. I registered for it but chickened out and didn’t show. I was ready physically, but mentally I couldn’t. On 7/5/2017, I was disappointed with myself and made a promise to get it done next year. No excuse. 2018 I got it done. 2019 I have to beat last year's time. Last, you’ve got to determine how you plan to get there! Will you need outside assistance from a trainer or an accountability partner? How will you make sure you’re on the right course? How are you going to measure your progress? Also, develop a schedule to make consistency a priority. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice some of the people, places, and things that were part of your less fit lifestyle. You will have to give up some of the shit you love, at least for now, and you know why? It had you comfortably stuck where you’re trying to move away from. So, keeping it around will only yield those same whack ass results you’ve been getting. Immerse yourself. Learn everything you can and embrace the change that comes along with it. I’ll use my current goal as an example: I want to decrease my body fat percentage by at least 10% and compete in an amateur physique competition by July 2020. I’m amazed at my progress thus far, so I want to further test my will and strength. I want to see where I can take my body using what I’ve learned in undergrad and grad school, and pairing it with new knowledge I pick up along the way. I also want to be healthy and fit, more lean, and be confident in my athleticism. I know that since I love cookies and I’m terrible at pre-planning my workouts and meals, I’m going to have to work to overcome those weaknesses. My goals are way more important than a few Otis Spunkmeyer oatmeal and raisin cookies a day. But, simply stating I want to compete in an amateur physique competition makes it a performance goal. It would be an outcome goal if I stated that I wanted to win the competition. It’s specific, though it probably could be more specific by stating which competition or category I want to compete in. I have yet to figure that part out. I’m planning to visit some competitions in the coming months. My measurement and progress checker will be my body fat percentage. There is no doubt that I can attain this goal. Losing 10 % body fat in a year is definitely attainable and realistic. July 2020 is my target date. Now that you have the tools and a solid example, go forth and plan! Failing to plan is a sure fire way of planning to fail. Stay smart, my friends.