At long last, 2016 is over and done with. Let us never speak of it again!
Onward to January 2017, the time of year when many people (maybe you?) are planning on making New Year’s Resolutions. Perhaps you want to start a new exercise program to get in shape. Maybe you want to lose some weight. Or maybe you want to make some lifestyle changes. All of these things are great, but research shows that just 8% of people who make resolutions actually see them through to completion. I’ll readily admit I’ve had my share of unmet goals over the years, but failure can be a great teacher if one is willing to do some honest self examination. I have examined, and I have learned. I’ve come away with six basic principles I follow in order to ensure I meet a goal, and I hope they help you too.
As much as modern entertainment and advertising would like us to believe, it’s just not possible to go from zero to hero overnight. It’s fun to set overly ambitious goals, and ordinarily ambition is a good thing, but goals need to be rooted in reality to have a chance at being accomplished. If you’ve been a couch potato all year long, don’t make your resolution about running a marathon or having “six-pack abs”. These goals are certainly achievable, but the effort required to meet them can easily overwhelm someone just starting out.
It’s much better to start off with smaller digestible chunks. Want to run a marathon? Commit to training for a 5k to start with. Want those six-pack abs? As a first step, commit to eating and drinking less and moving more. The idea is to leverage the snowball effect, where small achievements give you the physiological boost you need to tackle larger challenges. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your new bod. That’s totally okay, consistent steady progress is better than no progress at all.
He who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones
I have a busy life, and chances are you do too. It may be tempting to sign up for a membership at that hot new gym everyone’s talking about, but unless it’s a sport-specific training gym in a discipline you’re already established in, chances are high you won’t make use of that membership. Your average Globo Gym is counting on people signing up for a long-term membership but rarely using it – that’s part of their business model. Don’t ever commit to something you can’t fit into your existing schedule with a few minor tweaks. New fitness pursuits that requires drastic changes to a schedule or lifestyle are much more likely to get dropped.
Personally, I like fitness activities that don’t require a lot of specialized equipment and I can practice in the comfort of my own home or office gym. I’ve found that kettlebells serve my needs very well, but I understand they aren’t for everyone. The key is to find yourself a fitness pursuit with a low barrier to entry, in order to guarantee you can devote enough time to it to succeed
Simplicity is the key to brilliance
– Bruce Lee
I don’t know why, but it seems like the treadmill has come to epitomize the meaning of exercise in many people’s minds. I sometimes talk to people about exercise, and I hear “Ugh, I hate being on a treadmill, it’s so boring.” Who said anything about a treadmill? As if people had no way to exercise before the invention of the human hamster wheel!
Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. There are so many ways to move that there is bound to be something that fits your particular preference. Some people like running. Others enjoy swimming. Some prefer lifting weights. Some appreciate the discipline required in practices like yoga or martial arts. The trick to sticking with a goal is to make sure it lines up with something you already like to do.
You never achieve real success unless you like what you are doing
– Dale Carnegie
No matter what your goal is, consistent, diligent effort is the key to success. You’ve got to keep at it, week after week and month after month if you want to succeed. This is why enjoying your exercise is so important – if you like what you’re doing you’re more likely to stick with it for the long haul.
Having said that, finding time to exercise is usually a large stumbling block. My recommendation is to get it done as close to first-thing-in-the-morning as you possibly can. Get your exercise out of the way first, before the distractions of the day take hold. Believe me, it’s much easier to consistently start your day with a practice than it is to consistently end your day with one, especially for those of us with busy lives.
Even if you can only devote a small amount of time every day, do it. Deliberate, focused effort over time has a better chance of success than rushed inconsistent effort.
The slow blade penetrates the shield
– Gurney Halleck (Dune)
This is an important factor most people overlook. It’s easy enough to claim lofty goals, but if no one is holding you responsible for those goals how will you stay motivated to meet them? Sure, some people are self-motivated enough to maintain the consistency necessary to succeed. If you’re one of them, good for you! The rest of us need to have our feet held to the fire.
Tell someone you trust about your goals, and ask them to hold you accountable for them. Put something on the line that you don’t want to part with to ensure you follow through. For example, tell your friends and family you’ll donate $1000 to charity if you don’t meet your goal by a specific date. That’s a sizable amount of money for most of us, which is an important point. Whatever you put up as collateral toward meeting your goal has got to hurt enough to motivate you to actually accomplish that goal!
If you don’t feel comfortable telling friends or family about your goals, try an online community or consider starting a blog chronicling your progress. Believe me, this really helps. I can tell you firsthand that writing a fitness-oriented blog has kept me motivated to continue working out, even on days when I don’t really feel up to it. I’ll tell you this though, not once have I ever regretted getting off my butt to exercise. I guarantee you won’t either.
Do not fear going forward slowly – fear only to stand still
– Chinese Proverb
Last but certainly not least, be specific in your goal setting. It’s not enough to say “I want to lose weight” or “I’d like to get in shape”. How much weight? What kind of shape? Pear is a shape, right? Don’t be vague, set specific goals that can be measured so you can track your progress. It’s okay to set one small goal at first and achieve it, in order to build up some positive psychological momentum. Work up to bigger and more challenging goals as time goes on.
For example, my next goal is to perform 100 kettlebell snatches with a 16kg bell in under five minutes. I’ve only just recently worked up to snatching the 16kg bell, so I know that I’m able to do it. Working up to 100 snatches in 5 minutes is a very attainable goal for me, and once I have that I’ll move up in weight again. Simple, measurable, realistic, attainable.
A goal properly set is halfway reached
– Zig Ziglar
There you have it, the six lessons I’ve learned that have helped me set and achieve my goals. Do you have any lessons you’ve learned you would add? I’d love to learn what they are, add them in the comments along with your feedback!
I'm a software product manager with a full-time job, family, and a desire to stay strong, mobile, and fit. I separate fact from fiction to find the most effective and affordable options for home fitness. If you'd like to build your own home gym, start here.