Most people set goals this time of year, usually revolving around weight loss through increased exercise and "better" food choices. While these are perfectly normal and healthy goals to have, we often fail to create a realistic plan of action as to how we're going to attain these goals. It's not uncommon for our expectations to far exceed what's realistic or even practical. Often we throw out random numbers with the hopes and dreams that we'll somehow get there, but no concrete plan as to how.
Do any of these common New Year's goals sound familiar?
"I want to lose 20 pounds!"
"I'm going to start exercising every day"
"I'm going to stop eating carbs"
Most goals are ambiguous, open-ended hopes, with no finite plan. While we all have good intentions, there's a few things you need to know that will help you not only set appropriate goals, but allow you to achieve them through planning, hard-work and some inspiration.
Step 1: Write down your goals
We all have hopes, wishes and dreams, which often become our New Year's goals. All commendable, but these goals cannot become reality without a specific action plan. And, those that write down their goals are significantly more likely to achieve them.
Step 2: Goals are specific and measurable
"I want to bulk up" is not as good as, "I will put on 5 lb of muscle in the next 5 weeks"
Step 3: Goals should have a specific timeline
A timeline ensures that you know exactly when it's going to happen and therefore, makes the goal that much more real.
Step 4: Goals are realistic
We're used to seeing quick and seemingly easy weight loss through the media, so much so, that people don't have a basic understanding of what it takes to lose and maintain healthy weight loss. For example, losing 20 lb of body fat could take a year for some people, but most of us don't think about it like that, nor do we factor in levels of commitment and previous experience. For many people, they want to get healthy by losing weight, but all too often, the weight loss happens by getting healthy first!
Step 5: Find your inspiration
It's easy to throw out a random goal, like, "I will lose 8 lb of body fat in 8 weeks." In fact, this sounds like a pretty good goal, given it's specific, measurable, and seemingly realistic. However, if the goal doesn't have a motivating factor for someone, then they're unlikely to have the desire to follow-through. On the other hand, if it's their wedding in 8 weeks and they need to fit into their dress, then it's likely that their motivation is very high and will do what it takes to achieve the goal.
Step 6: Understand the difference between outcome goals and behavioral goals
An outcome goal is the intended result, i.e., "I will lose 8 lb of body fat in 8 weeks." or "I will be able to do 5 body weight pull-ups by May 1st", as these are the objective measures of ultimate success.
A behavioral goal is the hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that you need to complete in order to achieve the outcome goal, i.e., "I will exercise 5 days/week for the next 8-weeks" or "I will eat breakfast every day for the next 8-weeks". These are under the complete control of the individual and developed in such a way to make the outcome goal attainable.
Ultimately, your behavioral goals are the most important behaviors that you can realistically commit to RIGHT NOW, that will immediately effect whether or not you attain your outcome goal.
Some examples of behavioral weight loss goals that you may be able to implement immediately:
"I commit to exercising three days per week with a trainer and two days per week on my own."
"I commit to stop drinking alcohol during the week, and only having 1 glass of wine on the weekends with food."
"I commit to shopping and preparing all of my meals for the week on Sunday."
Sit-down, whether you're on your own, with a partner, or with a health professional, and outline the steps that you think will be necessary to reach your outcome goals. Even if you implement one new behavioral goal each week, you'll be much more equipped to accomplish your goals than before.
By following the aforementioned goal-setting steps, you are giving yourself the opportunity to be successful. Just like if you were to write a research paper, start a business, or plan an event, you would need a plan with Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely steps to facilitate your end goal. This is how you should treat your health-related goals for optimal success.
Berardi, John and Andrews, Ryan. 2010. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Certification Manual. Pp. 256-257, 378-380.