I've seen a lot of negativity and pessimism about New Years Resolutions lately, particularly ones related to health and fitness. I've noticed people try to rationalize away the thought they should even try to engage in an improvement in their health and fitness at all. They refuse to recognize the need. They may be trying to convince themselves to just accept their current health and fitness, even though deep down they are unhappy and dissatisfied with it. Folks all along the scale from just a little out of shape to full blown metabolic disease find ways to rationalize and accept their current state because they find it easier to accept than it is to change it. Deep down, they know it would be better to be healthier, and they wish they could, but they've failed at it before and don't know how to do it, and don't want to experience failure again. This is where you enter apathy, and you lose self-efficacy. Apathy does not result in increased health and fitness or self-efficacy, it results in denial and failure. Don't be that person that is so apathetic that they don't even set health and wellness goals.
My own version of pessimism about New Years Resolutions is about the fact that most people give up on them. Common knowledge. I don't believe it until I see it. The question then becomes why do most people fail at New Years Resolutions?
But besides that initial skepticism that enters the mind when one hears a New Years Resolution, the strongest thought in my mind about it, is that New Years is as great of a time as any to engage in behavior change. You want to start going to the gym? Great! Start today. You want to get leaner? Great! Start today. You want to get stronger? Great! Start today. You want to run faster! Great! Start today. Don't wait. You don't have time to wait. Waiting got you where you are now. Procrastinating further does not bring your goal closer. You absolutely have the ability to improve your physical capacity in any manner you want. Make a plan, or get help making a plan, and immediately execute on that plan. Once you've started, you'll wish you had started earlier. I still believe it is a great time to set some new goals for the year.
But why, then, do most folks fail at sticking to their resolutions?
Failure at any project or resolution happens generally as a result of poor planning, a lack of sustained effort, apathy, and poor execution. In order to create a proper "Resolution" in fitness, it can be simple, but the more detailed you make it, the better. You have to get engaged in it, it has to be concrete.
This is where SMART comes in -
A: Action Oriented
T: Time - Constrained
This is also where you have to consider "the 5 W's and the H" -
Every single one of these is important and has to be specific as possible. The more specific, the more likely the chances of success. Also, you really must consider the "Why." Why is this goal important to you? You have to create not only a set of logical reasons why this is important, but also a very strong set of emotional reasons. There will be times when logic fails to motivate you to continue persevering, in those times you will need to use emotion to overcome this. There will also be a time when your emotional will is low, and at those times, you must use a sound logical argument in your mind to overcome the resistance. If you fail at building a very strong, clear why, you will ensure failure of your resolution.
Keep in mind also the power of Process goals rather than Outcome goals... Process goals and adherence and really what results in an outcome goal.
Let's work through a couple of hypotheticals:
Common New Years Fitness Resolutions:
1. "Lose Weight" = Automatic Fail. This person is statistically more likely to gain weight than lose weight.
2. "Get back in shape" = Automatic Fail. This person is likely to aimlessly try for a few weeks, and then further progress in becoming rounder, softer, and worse in shape.
3. "Start going to the gym" = Automatic Fail. This person is very likely going to go the gym a few times and not go for the rest of the year, but keep their gym membership because throwing their $ away at a corporate gym makes them feel good that they are spending $ on their fitness, even though they aren't getting any ROI.
4. "Get a six pack" = Automatic Fail. This person is more likely to get a 6 pack of beer than 6 pack abs.
What is the problem with all these Resolutions? Well, they are ridiculous. It's easy to laugh at them as statements. Why? Because they are so vague. There is no how. There is no specific what. There is no why. There is no specific when. There is no specific where. There is no specific anything.
There are no measurable process goals. There are no significant action oriented weekly and daily and monthly steps. You don't know if it's realistic because there isn't enough specificity to even judge it. It is not time constrained because 1 year is a very long time and there is no sense of urgency. In your mind you can just say tomorrow, and just like that, you've failed, and the cycle of failure will continue until the resolution is forgotten.
Recap: Considering SMART, those meet 0/5, they fail at specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, and time constrained.
Considering the 5W's and the H, those are 1/6, with the only success being the Who...
1/11 creates a poor plan, with a very low likelihood of success. Can you imagine admitting you were 1 for 11 in planning?
That's a .090 Average...
How to create a Smart Fitness Resolution out of the prior example:
"Get back in shape" What does getting back in shape look like to you?
Specific: I want to build strength and improve my aerobic endurance. Specifically, I want to improve lower body strength, upper body strength, and core strength. I will measure improvement in my lower body strength via testing 5RM Back Squat. I will measure Upper Body Strength via 5RM Bench Press and Max Weighted Pull Up Reps. I will measure improvement in aerobic endurance via improving my 1 mile time, 2 mile time, and 5 mile time.
Measurable: Every single one of those assessments is extremely measurable and easy to measure. Though to gauge effectiveness one would need to consider a time component which comes later.
Action Oriented: In order to improve lower body strength, I will perform a 2x / week Back Squat strength program using progressive overload as the general principle to help build strength. In order to improve upper body strength, I will perform a Bench Press and Pull Up oriented strength program. I will perform bench press 2x / week, pull ups 3x / week, and other accessory arm exercises 2x per week. In order to improve my aerobic endurance, I will do a program consisting of steady state and interval training designed to improve running time in 1 mile, 2 mile, and 5 mile runs.
Realistic: Improvement in Back Squat, Bench Press, Pull Ups, and a concurrent increase in running speed are all very possible in a very high % of people. How much improvement is where this consideration gets individualized and tricky. A 4:00 1 Mile time may indeed be unrealistic for many. A 100 pound increase in back squat may be unrealistic for one person, it may be well within reason for a different individual. You have to know yourself and scale goals as you progress.
Time Constrained: You have to set time constraints that are broken up into the year, several months, 1 month, and weeks.
Monthly Example: I will set a baseline test for every strength measurement, and put 5 - 15#'s on my Back Squat the first month, I will put 5 - 10#'s on my bench press the first month. I will increase my max rep pull ups by 2 - 3 reps this month. I will set a baseline for all my running events, and proceed to shave off :30 off my 1 mile run time within the first month, and to shave 1:00 off my 2 mile run time within the first month. My goal is to just complete 2 5 mile runs within the first month.
What about the 5 W's and the H?
What: We addressed what through selecting several specific, quantifiable metrics that will measurably and demonstrably improve strength and fitness.
When: We broke the year down into cycles, yearly, 3 month blocks, 1 month blocks, and week blocks. Otherwise known as the first steps to periodization.
Where: We have not addressed this, I will perform my upper and lower body strength training program in my garage gym, or at Gold's gym (As example) and I will perform my aerobic training on the road near my house, at LAHS Track, or indoor, preferably on an AirRunner treadmill if available.
Why: What we haven't done yet is determine why? Some examples:
Logical reasons: Improve strength - higher capacity and preparation for physical activity in life - improve bone density - improve resistance to injury - improve heart health - reduce chance of cardiovascular and metabolic disease - lose body fat - build muscle - look better - feel better - more energy - not getting exhausted from walking up a flight of stairs -
Emotional reasons: setting example for family and kids. adding years to quality of life so as I age, I can continue being active with kids and grandkids and avoid preventable disease. I've always wanted to be fit and I owe it to myself to be what I imagined. I want to stay in shape for my husband or wife. I want to stay in shape for myself. I want to be physically prepared to save myself, my family, or friends in any situation. I don't want to be the person that couldn't make it. I don't want to be weaker and in worse shape than a competitor. I want to build confidence, self-efficacy, and I want to be strong. I don't want to be weak and unfit, unable to keep up with my kids and unable to defend myself. I don't want to be a couch potato, and I don't want to be an out of shape person. My physical shape is a direct result of the shape of my brain. If my thoughts are strong and fit, my body will be strong and fit. If my mind is weak and lazy, my body will be weak and lazy. Do I want to be strong and fit or weak and lazy?
How: This was already addressed via making everything specific, measurable, and time constrained. Cool huh.
Remember, logic and emotions on their own fail, you need to use them as a team. When one isn't working, the other one covers. Use them as a team.
With all that in mind, especially with a very powerful Why, all you need is consistency and perseverance. Consistency and perseverance are far more likely to win over apathy when you have a powerful why, specific, achievable, and time-constrained goals. Goals that you really believe will result in what you want.
You have a fantastic opportunity right now, this instant, to change for the better. Take advantage, don't let yourself down. GET TO IT.
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