Categories: Motivation

How to set goals you will actually achieve | New Year’s resolutions

December 27, 2016

As well as the month of December bringing about reflective thoughts of the year just passed, there is also a refreshed optimism for the New Year ahead. Ideas naturally turn to setting out acts of self-improvement, and conversations soon turn to New Year’s resolutions that often incorporate an element of improved fitness.

Psychology Professor John Norcross has published extensively in the area of self-initiated behavior change and found that approximately half of the population make New Year’s resolutions. Unsurprisingly, recurring themes include exercise, weight loss, smoking and managing money more effectively.

But why do New Year’s resolutions often fail after a relatively short period of time and become a distant memory before February is in full swing?

But why do New Year’s resolutions often fail after a relatively short period of time and become a distant memory before February is in full swing?

Professor Timothy Pychyl says that resolutions are a form of motivation, but the reason for such a high failure rate is that he believes people aren’t actually ready to change habitually bad habits. Another reason which many will be able to relate to and often cite is that the goal is simply unrealistic.

So what makes a realistic goal and how can we ensure the fitness goals we do set over the festive period are followed through and achieved?

The Science of Setting Goals

Before looking at the components of a good New Year fitness resolution it’s important to think about what a goal actually is:

Goal setting can be defined as “the process of establishing an outcome (a goal) to serve as the aim of one’s actions” (Turkay, 2014).

Understanding that there are different types of goal will also help when laying the foundations for the New Year, of which these can be split into the below three areas:

  • Outcome goals
  • Performance goals
  • Process goals

Outcome Goal

An outcome goal is focussed on the end result, or as the name suggests, the outcome. This type of goal is dependent upon the performance of others. An outcome goal in a sporting context would be winning a race, or finishing on the podium of an athletics event.

Performance Goal

A performance goal sets out a certain level or specific benchmark to attain. A performance goal would be running 10K under 50 minutes, or being able to do 25 press-ups in one go without stopping. Unlike an outcome goal, a performance goal is independent of the performance of others which means there is considerably more control over its success.

Process Goal

A process goal, as the name alludes to, focuses on skill execution and/or technique. How an action is performed is the primary improvement area and is not associated with the external performance of others. A process goal would be for a golfer to hold the correct level and position of their shoulders during a golf swing or improving the position of a swimmers hand as it enters the water prior to the pull element of freestyle swimming.

All these types of goal have their place, but a word of warning with outcome goals – an issue that can arise is that it places the focus and therefore obsession on the end result, forgetting the path that needs to be taken to get there.

In an odd way the outcome that was the original, primary motivator turns into the thing that causes negative behavior and mind-set.

In an odd way the outcome that was the original, primary motivator turns into the thing that causes negative behavior and mind-set. Focusing too much on the distant outcome can prove to be incredibly divisive, as the emphasis turns to what you don’t have, unhappiness with not achieving your goal and in turn encouraging unconstructive behavior.

In addition, proponents of process goals would say the process is about doing the right thing rather than focussing on the end result, because the right behaviors will lead to the desired outcome.

The structure of goal setting

Understanding how to differentiate between the types of goal will definitely help when formulating your plan for the year ahead, but also adding an element of structure to your goal setting will create a type of checklist and element of accountability.

The acronym SMART is widely used as an incredibly effective way of defining goals in a clear, objective, structured, detailed way. A SMART goal must conform to the following criteria Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

S – Is your goal specific – what exactly is it you want to achieve? How, when and where will it happen?

M – Is your goal measurable – what will it look like if you achieve your objective? What evidence will show you have been successful?

A – Is your goal attainable – can you realistically reach your goal? The whole point of a goal is to   be a challenge and something that will push you, but shouldn’t be impossible.

R – Is your goal relevant – is it personal and why do you want to reach it?

T – Is your goal timely – when will you achieve it? All objectives need a deadline, which will hold accountability to your actions and progress.

Setting goals you will achieve

If a New Year fitness goal is SMART, can be categorised as one of the three types of goal, while understanding the potential advantages/disadvantages they offer, a challenging, fulfilling year awaits!

So while you’re curled up by the fire enjoying all that the festive season has to offer, take some time to reflect on what you’ve achieved in the last year and what you want to accomplish in 2017.

Choose a goal that matters to you, ensure your goals have a positive spin, don’t be deterred by setback, ensure your goal is SMART and that you know the type of goal and how that will affect the outcome. When it comes to fitness you really can achieve anything you want. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish, be courageous, be strong, be clever, be confident in your own ability, be the hardest working person in the room and you will be successful.

Good luck and Happy New Year. Here’s to a happy, healthy and fitter 2017!