We’ve all been there. You set a goal for yourself… to quit smoking, to lose weight, to be stronger, to eat healthier… but you lose track. You maybe don’t even know when you veered off course, but you find yourself no longer following the plan.
Right around February 1st the gyms are already thinned out as the New Year’s resolutions become less resolute. A few weeks after a month long strict dietary regimen the bad habits are back.
Don’t blame yourself. This time, do something different.
Here are some goal setting and achieving strategies that have worked for many of my patients to help create sustainable lifestyle changes and I’m confident that by implementing some of these strategies you will have better outcomes too. So get out a pen and a paper (seriously) and let’s start working on setting you up for success.
Individualize Your Plan
Your friend or your co-worker may have things that work very well for them, but don’t be surprised if their plan doesn’t work for you. You have your own obstacles that you need to overcome and the first step is to identify them.
Below I will walk through the top 5 obstacles I see in my practice as well as techniques to help deal with them.
- Not Enough Energy – This is number 1 for a reason. It is one of the most common symptoms I hear about and the most common reason for patients not getting to the gym or cooking healthy meals. Fatigue can be a symptom of many things, so if you do not know why you’re tired, you should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. If you are tired because you aren’t sleeping enough, this should also be addressed. Other techniques that can be helpful include:
- Going to the gym in the morning rather than after work or whatever else you fill your day with. It will make the rest of your day go better too.
- Going at times you are more rested like on the weekends or earlier in the week.
- Not Enough Time – Prioritize your health. If you do not have your health you will not be able to give yourself to your other priorities. Your health is an investment and part of what you have to give is time. If you feel you don’t have time to exercise or to cook healthy meals now, ask yourself: “How will this change? Where will I make more time?”
- Schedule it in your calendar at times that will actually work.
- Plan shorter workouts. You don’t need to spend an hour in the gym to get a good workout in. Aim for 20 minutes even.
- Make it a goal to never miss more than 2 days in a row at the gym. Keep a calendar on your fridge where you write in what you’ve done so you can easily keep track.
- If it is nutrition-related, master a few simple cooking techniques that don’t require planning (or if you’re a good cook, remember it’s okay to keep things super simple sometimes!) Sautéing or steaming vegetables, pan-roasting fish, making a good omelet, and baking chicken or just a few simple techniques that make it easy to throw together a quick and healthy meal.
- Money – This is more personal, but your health is an investment. Gym costs vary widely and many people can find fairly affordable gyms nearby. If paying for a membership is truly not an option there are many exercises you can do at home. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive either, but you also need to take into account the longer term costs of eating unhealthy.
- Loss of Motivation – This largely comes down to goal-setting and ways to keep you focused. Below I’ll walk you through an evidence-backed way to formulate your goals to set you up for success.
- Old Habits Interfere With New Habits – These old habits could be anything from snoozing the alarm, habitual smoke breaks, to sugar cravings and snacking. There are 2 major ways to help address this obstacle: If/Then and Repeal & Replace.
- If/Then – Address your obstacles before you get to them by using the “If/Then” technique. For example, “If I come home and start rummaging through the pantry and the fridge, then instead I will make a cup of tea.” This is a similar technique to one used in psychology where you use negativity as a trigger to do or think something positive.
- Repeal & Replace – If you take something you enjoy away from yourself, replace it with a healthier option you also enjoy. The above example can also apply here, but another example would be to replace a candy bar/pastry with a square of dark chocolate.
- Understand that some of these habits may be in your DNA. There is increasing evidence that certain genes may contribute to behaviors such as snacking, sweet tooth, and eating disinhibition for example. By identifying the obstacles you can still overcome these habits, it just may be harder for you than for some other people.
Set SMART goals
- Specific – Be specific. When I give my patients a treatment plan it needs to be specific or they are not as likely to stick to the plan. I wouldn’t tell someone: “Your vitamin D is low. Start taking vitamin D,” and leave it at that. You wouldn’t know what to do! If I say: “Start taking 2,000 IU vitamin D3 daily for 3 months” you now know exactly what to do. The same goes for exercise and nutrition plans.
- Measurable – Rather than saying “my goal is to run more,” set something measurable like, “my goal is to run a 5K.”
- Attainable – Your goals should be realistic. Don’t set a goal that is not really that attainable, like losing 10 lbs by next week. A more realistic goal might be losing 6 pounds in 4 weeks for example.
- Relevant – You may need to reach a little deeper to make your goals relevant to you. What really resonates about your goal? For example, is it really about just losing weight? Or do you want your clothes to fit more comfortably or want to be more active with your kids?
- Time-specific – When do you want to achieve your goals by? If you want to run a 5K, why not plan to do it by May?
Have you been tweaking your own goals to fit the SMART goal technique? If not, give yourself 5 minutes to do that now.
If you haven’t realized this already, you definitely want to WRITE YOUR GOALS DOWN!
You also want to set up your SMART goals for long-term and shorter term:
Long-term – Why are you doing this at all? What ultimately do you want out of this? Examples could include bench pressing your body weight, running at 10k, reducing body fat %.
Mid-term – 4-6 months out is a good time frame to think about. It’s on the horizon but you’ll have to put in some work to get to this goal. Examples could be running a 5k, lifting a % of your body weight, or doing a certain number of push-ups.
Short-term – 3-4 weeks is a pretty reasonable short-term goal time frame. If you can do zero push-ups now, maybe do 6 in 4 weeks. If you aren’t running at all now, maybe in a month you could be running 3 miles.
Very short-term – This would be your goal for the next workout or the next day. This could be doing one more rep in an exercise, running another 0.1 or 0.25 miles, or eating another serving of vegetables.
Goals can be small. Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve them. The little bit more you do next time is more than you’ve done before.
When you aren’t seeing the results you are hoping for it can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you are putting in the work. You certainly want to make sure there isn’t something wrong preventing you from seeing results (nutrient timing, metabolic abnormalities, weight-lifting form, etc). I also find it highly beneficial to re-frame and keep track of results in different ways. Examples:
- % muscle mass
- % body fat
- waist circumference
- number of reps/sets
- weight lifted
- body mass index
- how you feel
Many trainers and gyms (and our office) have body composition testing that can tell you your body fat percentage and muscle mass. I find these much more valuable than pounds on a scale. Additionally, you can gain strength while not necessarily gaining much muscle mass, so keeping track of different results can help you see the results and keep you engaged.
Plan to re-group and re-assess your goals and your techniques for overcoming obstacles. If something isn’t working, be honest with yourself and develop a new way to make it work better for you.
Using the 1st of the month as a planned date to do this works for a lot of people because it feels like a new beginning.
Studies have shown that having a partner whois pursuing similar goals can help you keep to your goals. This could be a gym buddy, significant other, or friend you regularly check in with. If it just doesn’t work with other people’s schedules or you are more likely to be pursuing it on your own, consider a trainer, signing up for classes, or simply telling someone else about your goals.
Now can be the time that you stick to your goals and make a sustainable plan that works for you. If you have trouble identifying some of your obstacles some healthcare providers, like myself, would be happy to help. If one of your obstacles is fatigue, make sure there isn’t an underlying condition causing it that should be addressed. I recommend bookmarking this page and reviewing it during your 1st of the month check-ins to keep you on a good course.