There is a lot of pressure this time of year to make new year resolutions, to set goals and to make changes in our lives. It is just what everyone does. Then we gloss over the fact that most people abandon their new year resolutions before February 1st. It's the time of the year that you are supposed to overhaul your whole life or at least pretend you want to overhaul your whole life.
IDENTIFY IF THEY ARE DREAMS OR GOALS
We've all heard of of S.M.A.R.T. goals. That's Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timely. That framework for goal setting is great to ensure that you are setting goals and not just naming your dreams. A goal would be to lose 25 pounds by May 1st by exercising four times per week with both cardio and strength training and eating 1800 calories per day (only an example) from mostly whole foods from nature. A dream would be to wish you were skinnier.
People often name their dreams as their new year resolutions. They say, "I want to lose weight, save more money, get organized and win the lottery." You might as well write them down in a letter and mail them to Santa and hope your wishes are granted by the man in a big red suit.. These are fine dreams but how do you convert dreams to goals so you can actually accomplish them?
You see the difference? Dreams don't have action or deadlines attached to them, goals have an action plan and deadline. S.M.A.R.T. goals are a good starting point, but in case you're one of those people who roll their eyes at people who set goals, I have a framework to follow for people who know themselves well enough to know that they are not going to wake up on January 1st and instantly change all their habits and behaviors. First of all congratulations on being self-aware enough to know better. As humans, the change-everything-all-at-once plan rarely (if ever) is effective. It's just not how we are built.
If S.M.A.R.T. goals sound like something people who have their life together do (you know, those people who throw hand-made Pinterest-worthy parties and clean their baseboards every week), I created F.A.S.T. goals for the rest of us.
FOCUS: CHOOSE ONE GOAL AT A TIME
So if you want to lose weight, qualify for Boston, build six pack abs, increase strength and pay off all your debt, it's best to choose one goal at a time and apply laser sharp focus on it.
While all of those goals sound great in theory, in the real world they are conflicting to each other. You can't achieve conflicting goals at the same time. You may be able to train to qualify for Boston, but can you expect to lose body fat, get six pack abs and achieve a new deadlift PR all at the same time? No, probably not. The body simply doesn't adapt that way. You can train your body to do amazing things, but in order to truly succeed it's important to focus on one goal at a time. People often gain weight while marathon training (yes, it happens). It's harder to pack on muscle when running a lot of miles. Races, race gear and coaching can be expensive and may not align with your goal to pay off debt. They are all noble goals, just not at the same time. With too many goals, you'll likely not achieve any of them. You'll be faced with conflicting priorities and overwhelm. A better action plan is to focus on one goal, work to achieve it, then move on to the next. Decide what is really important to you.
ALIGN YOUR GOALS
...with your lifestyle
It's easy to say you want something, it's hard to change behavior to actually get it. You may say you want six pack abs, but then you really enjoy your friday night meet up with friends at a bar. Your goal in this case does not align with your lifestyle. If you are not willing to give up drinking beer, you will likely not be able to achieve this goal. If you are ready, willing and able to make lifestyle changes to achieve your goal, then you'll be on the right track.
...with your preferences
If you don't like working out in the gym, then forcing yourself to hit the gym six days a week for an hour in order to lose weight won't be an effective strategy. Most people won't do things they don't enjoy long term. People don't respond well to punishment. The key is to find something you love. Maybe you prefer an outdoor bootcamp, a running group or a Yoga class. Align the actions you need to achieve your goals with something you enjoy. It might take some experimenting and it also might take some time. You may not start out loving the gym or running, but after you start to see results, your love may grow. The secret to goal achievement is to love the process.
...with your values
If it important to you to spend time with your family, then training for a marathon while the rest of the family goes on an outing without you week after week probably won't work for you long term. It's guaranteed that you will have to make some sacrifices while working towards big goals, but be careful setting goals that go against your core values. The question to ask yourself is this: Is my goal worth the sacrifices I am making to achieve it? Maybe you want to achieve 13% body fat but if that means giving up all social occasions with friends and family dinners at restaurants, you may decide a slightly higher body fat percentage is acceptable because it still allows you to bond with friends and family over meals.
SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
The fastest way to kill a goal is to set unrealistic expectations. In our weight loss example, you may set a goal to lose two pounds a week every week until you lose 30 pounds. Sounds great and achievable, right? Well, not really. The human body does not work that way. While two pounds a week is a healthy goal, it's important to remember that it means two pounds per week as an average over time. Weight loss is rarely linear. Two pounds a week does not mean that you will/should expect to lose two pounds a week, every single week. It's unlikely. Some weeks you may lose three pounds, some weeks (maybe even multiple weeks in a row) you may lose nothing. It's not even a bad thing. It could mean you are gaining muscle. Keep in mind that the scale is not an accurate representation of health or body fat percentage. A lower number on the scale could mean that you are losing muscle and that would be detrimental to long-term weight loss. Don't expect changes to happen overnight or even over a couple of months. It takes time, patience and perseverance to achieve any goal. If you gained 20 pounds over the last five years, it would be unrealistic to expect that you'd lose it in eight weeks. If your marathon PR is five hours, it unlikely that you will qualify for Boston in six months. Set realistic expectations. If you are not sure what is realistic for you, then work with a coach to help you set goals.
TRUST THE PROCESS
The most important component to goal achievement is learning to love and trust the process. Shift your focus from the end goal to the actions you need to take on a daily basis to achieve that goal. Narrow your focus to the daily actions you can take that will bring you one step closer to your goal. If you want to run a marathon, focus on the daily miles. If you want to lose weight, focus on your daily meals, if you want to pay off debt, focus on your daily spending. It's all about the process. What can you do today? Break big goals down to small daily goals. Fall in love with the process. Trust the process. It's the process that leads to real goal achievement.
I hope you can take this framework to think about the things you want to accomplish in the new year. I suggest that before you start making new year's resolutions that you take time to reflect on the past year. I created this worksheet to help you with that process.
Ready to make lasting, sane and sustainable changes? I have a new nutrition habit coaching group starting in January. Take 75% off your first month to see if you like it. Spots are extremely limited. Reserve your place now.
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