The great thing about New Year’s Resolutions is that they show a desire to get better. When you resolve in January to lose that unwanted weight, break new PRs in the gym, or finally run a marathon, you’re displaying at least two admirable qualities: humility and ambition.
The not-so-great thing about New Year’s Resolutions is their well-documented failure rate. Studies have shown that of the 40 or so percent of Americans who make beginning-of-year resolutions (around half of which are health and fitness related), only around 10 percent of them report having achieved success at year’s end. (A 2016 study showed a 9 percent success rate, while a 2007 study showed 12 percent.)
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set New Year’s Resolution this year. By all means do – just make sure to set yourself up for success by using the below proven strategies, all endorsed by Undersun Fitness owner and founder James Grage.
1) Start with a Small, Achievable Goal
“Go big or go home” might make for a catchy Instagram post, but it almost never works as a goal-setting strategy. It’s okay to dream big, but don’t get ahead of yourself.
Before you can lose 20 pounds, you have to lose the first five – heck, even the first one pound. Before you shoot for a marathon, put a 5K or 10K race on your calendar; when you complete one of those, move up to a half-marathon.
Whatever big goal you have, break it down to one initial goal that will get you moving in the right direction to create momentum and positive reinforcement. The simpler, more achievable the goal, the better.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see in goal-setting is wanting to run before you can walk,” says Grage, who has over 20 years experience in fitness as a former physique athlete, industry professional, and entrepreneur. “Progress isn’t defined by leaps and bounds, but instead by taking small, yet impactful, baby steps. Break bigger goals down into smaller, more manageable mini-goals. This will allow you to celebrate each small goal and keep your enthusiasm high, instead of risking frustration waiting to achieve one big goal.”
Grage also stresses the importance of setting clear goals. Be specific here. Don’t just say you want to lose some weight or have a bigger bench press. Attach numbers to your goals – achievable numbers, that is. Then, think about how achieving a particular goal is going to make you feel.
“Instead of aiming for vague buzzwords and phrases – skinny, better abs, ripped, shredded – envision your goals as realistically as a clip from your favorite movie,” says Grage. “You should be able to see everything in crisp detail. Your goal should have the power to make you feel something. How many pounds do you want to lose? What will it feel like to fit into a smaller size? What will you feel like in this new body?”
2) Focus on the Process
There are two main types of goals – outcome goals and process goals – and both are vitally important. The ones we just discussed are outcome goals, which represent the result you hope to achieve (lose 5 pounds this month, drop one dress size, complete a 5K, etc.).
Process goals, on the other hand, describe exactly what you’re going to do to reach your desired outcome. And again, these need to be achievable goals. They should also be very specific. Here are a couple examples…
I’m going to do TA2 Bodyshock workouts at 10:00am Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday this week. (And then set the same goal in subsequent weeks.)
I’m going to run 1 mile on Monday morning before work, 1.5 miles Wednesday morning, and 2 miles Saturday morning.
As you can see, these statements are very different than those centered around specific results. With process goals, the action itself is the objective. This approach may not sound as sexy as an outcome goal, but research shows that process goals are highly effective motivational tools.
Case in point: One well-known UK study looked at three groups of exercisers during a two-week period. One group was given written material touting the benefits of exercise at the beginning of the program; another group was required to write down the exact day, time, and place they planned to exercise for at least 20 minutes during the study; and a third (control) group received no materials or instruction.
The study results were eye-opening: 91% of the subjects who wrote down the day, time, and place to exercise got their workouts in, whereas less than 40% of those in the other two groups followed through.
“Don’t let your enthusiasm be the only thing that carries you through,” says Grage. “Levels of motivation fluctuate like the tides, with steady ups and steady downs. If enthusiasm is the only thing keeping you committed, you’ll be more likely to quit at some point. Even a clear outcome goal won’t always be enough to keep you on track. You need a good, simple plan to follow, and that’s where process goals come in.”
Maybe it was your goal to lose a pound a week for a certain number of weeks, and this week you didn’t lose that one pound – but you did reach your process goal of getting in all four or five scheduled workouts. According to Grage, that’s without a doubt a successful week.
“If you consistently hit your process goals, week after week,” he says, “your outcome goals will take of themselves.”
3) Surround Yourself with People Who Support Your Goals
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
This quote from famed entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn may not apply in every context, but the message is nonetheless valid: Who you surround yourself with can make or break your fitness progress.
Not everyone you hang out with needs to have the same goals and resolutions as you, but they should at least support what you’re doing and respect your ambitions. If they instead choose to mock your lifestyle or, even worse, try to sabotage your goals, consider spending less time around those people until they’re more aligned with your lifestyle.
“Having the right people around you is really important,” says Grage. “You have to find a good support network. That’s one of the challenges I see a lot with people who take on new fitness goals – they don’t have people in their lives who are encouraging them.
“Maybe your friends aren’t living a lifestyle that’s conducive to getting in shape, and they essentially drag you down – even if they don’t mean to. If you’re in a group of friends, and you guys go out all the time for pizza and beers, the last thing your friends want you to do is stop hanging out with them. So, of course they’re going to say, ‘Hey, come out with us and have some beer, have some pizza.’ It’s tough to say no to your friends, but you owe it to yourself to find people who support your goals and encourage you.”
4) Make Sure Your Plan is Sustainable
Let’s say you started the year out right by staying on task with your training and nutrition, crushing it in January and February. That’s great, congrats! But the coming months are just as important, if not more so.
The ultimate goal isn’t just to get in shape, but to stay in shape. To make March and April, and the months thereafter, just as productive as January and February. And how do you do that? By choosing a program and nutrition plan that’s sustainable.
The concept of sustainability cannot be overstated. If the program or diet you’ve been doing for the last few weeks is one you know you won’t be able to stick to long-term because it’s too physically or time-consuming (or both), consider dialing it back a bit and adopting a more sustainable plan.
“You’re better off following a 3-or-4-days-a-week exercise plan that you can stick to long term than a 6-days-a-week program that you’ll burn out on in a month or two,” says Grage. “That 6-day program may give you more immediate results, but the six-month and 12-month results (and beyond) are way more important. I know it’s not always easy to have that kind of patience, but you’ve got to play the long game with health and fitness.”
Sustainability is actually one of Undersun’s core tenets. If the program you’re following requires you to train at a gym, what happens when work and family life get so busy that you don’t have time for a gym commute and an hour-long workout five or six days a week? What happens when you want to take a week off for vacation or to go see family back home? Chances are, missed workouts is what happens. And just like that, you’re off track and the momentum you built is gone.
Undersun resistance bands and mobile TA2 programs allow you to train anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to conform your life to your training program; your training program conforms to whatever lifestyle you want to lead. That’s what “fitness freedom” means. The more freedom you have in when and where you can train, the more sustainable your program will be.