Everybody starts the New Year the same – all good intentions. 2014 is going to be your year. You are going to run every day, you’re never going to eat chocolate again, not a single cigarette will touch your lips for the whole year.
This lasts for about a week and a half before the left over Christmas chocolate catches up with you and the cold weather ruins every last drop of your willpower. Your problem is, in the immortal words of Eric Thomas, “you don’t want it as bad as you want to breathe.” You will never lose the weight if you don’t want it more than you hate being uncomfortable. A major part in being successful is reaching that tipping point where the pros outweigh the cons and you slip seamlessly into success. I can’t provide you with that drive, but I can definitely help you get on your way. Here are 3 techniques that make the whole process a lot easier.
Long term dreams, Short term goals
Think big. It’s not a problem, but you need to create steps to the big dream. You will never just learn a language, it’s too big a concept and you’ll get lost in all of the unimportant details. You need to break it down into little goals that build to create the bigger picture. The smaller and easier the better to begin with. Get some early wins to create momentum, nobody wants to fail at the first hurdle so think running shoes not running a 10k.
Using our example of learning a language; rather than buying a Spanish to English dictionary and digging in, try looking up the top 100 most used Spanish words/ phrases and begin to learn them. Right out of the bat this will dramatically reduce the amount you have to learn even before you further split that workload up. Due to the frequency of which these words/ phrases are used you may find that you are more fluent than you ever expected to be in no time at all. Alternatively you can look at using duolingo. It is a free service that will take you through the progression of learning a language so all the work of splitting the learning up is done for you.
Whatever you do, make sure that your small goals lead somewhere. Start small at first, and as you pick up momentum with early wins then you can get more and more adventurous. The trick is to dodge any roadblocks that can derail you progress before you reach them. If you want to learn to swim but the breaststroke has always had you drowning in the shallow end then cut it out. Missing that one aspect out at the beginning won’t prevent you from being able to swim, and you can always come back to it when you have more momentum and more confidence. Take the time to plan out your small steps before you start to ensure they all lead the way to the bigger picture and this will stop you getting hung up on the small details.
How you set out your goals makes a huge difference to whether you succeed or fail. For this section we’ll use the goal of ‘I’m going to be more active’ as our example. This is a terrible goal. It has no real direction, no end point and no way to measure success. There are 5 steps to think about when setting your goals, everyone has a slightly different version of SMART but here is mine:
Is it Specific
What EXACTLY do you want? If your goal is too general, there is too much that can go wrong. How are you going to be more active? Play the Wii standing up like you did when you bought it? Join a local football team? Our New year’s resolutioner is going to take up running, so:
‘I’m going to be more active’ becomes ‘I am going to start running’
Is it Measureable
How will you know that you’ve been successful? You need a consistent way to track your progress. You want something quantative (lbs lost, notches on a belt) rather than ‘how I look in the mirror’ although it is completely reasonable to want to look good in the mirror, as a form of measurement it is too easily influenced but outside factors such as your mood and how bloated you are. With this inconsistency come more chances for you to get discouraged and give up.
Using our running example, we need to set out how far he is going to run and when he is going to run.
‘I’m going to start running’ becomes ‘I’m going to run 10k every morning’
Can and will you do it? This is very important. If your goal is unrealistic you will never even start. Like I said before, baby steps. Get some early wins and build your momentum. If you are starting from a sedentary lifestyle, are you going to lace up your running shoes and knock out a half marathon? More realistic is run 1k or 2k or even walk for an hour. You have a year, why rush it?
Are you really going to hit the gym every lunch hour? When are you going to eat? Not only does the task need to be achievable but it needs to fit into your lifestyle. If you’ve never been a morning person then the chances are that you won’t start waking up fresh this year. An effective swap is that hour of nothing tv you watch between your 2 favourite shows, or that eternity you spend watching a Hollyoaks omnibus your girlfriend put on (same goes for sitting through football matches).
‘I’m going to run 10k every morning’ becomes ‘I’m going to run 2k every morning’
Give yourself room for error. The ‘just this once’ mentality is a dangerous one. If you cheat on your resolution once and there are no repercussions, you WILL do it again. It’s human nature. Just this once, becomes well I had a bad morning I’ll just start it again tomorrow, becomes I’ll have the weekend off. You get the picture. Don’t let the ball get rolling. If your goals are too strict you will have no option but to skip a run if life gets in the way. Something will always come up eventually; if you have to watch the kids, or if there’s a snow storm, so pre-empt it with your goal setting. If you give yourself room to breathe then your skipped session can just become one of your planned days off, nipping the ‘just this once’ mentality in the bud. But you have to be strong with this, remember it is just a day off, nothing more, you’re back on track as soon as the grace period is over.
‘I’m going to run 2k every morning’ becomes ‘I’m going to run 2k, 3 times a week’
Set your finish line. For a basic guide, it takes 25-30 days to create a habit. Without a time limit you can just carry on falling off and on the wagon and never make any progress. After your time limit is up, you have the chance to evaluate your development and change your goals to suit your current situation. This is essential for progressing your goals towards reaching your big end target. A time limit also introduces stakes. Getting slim for summer type programmes work because they introduce an emotional element to your goals. If you haven’t lost the fat by your summer holiday then you’ll be embarrassed to wander around on the beach in your swimsuit. The time limit gives you stakes, and the stakes provide motivation.
‘I’m going to run 2k, 3 times a week’ becomes ‘I’m going to run 2k, 3 times a week, for 4 weeks’
Make it emotional
What made you want to make this change in the first place? When your whole family is eating pizza it is all too easy to forget what made you start your diet. Creating an emotional connection with your goal is vital. If it is strong enough then you can overcome anything. People make overnight changes and never look back when their emotions are involved, for example someone turning vegetarian after seeing a slaughter house or people quitting smoking on the spot after a loved one has died of lung cancer. These are obviously very extreme examples and quite hard to pull out of thin air, but if you are seriously trying to make a change then there will be a reason you want to. Try to think of what made you want to make a change and cling to it. If the catalyst for the change is something tangible, say a picture or a line in a book then it will be easy to multiply it and keep reminders of your goal in places of high temptation (stick it on the fridge). If your goal isn’t already laid out on paper then it may help to look for something to represent your goal. Have a look around and find something that gets an emotional response out of you, it could be a song, a picture, a quote or a video but putting a name and face on your goal can go a long way to ensuring your success. It’s the same as the idea behind splitting the main goal into smaller steps: an amorphous idea like ‘losing a stone’ is much harder to follow than an image like ‘I want to fit into these jeans’ or ‘I want to look like this’. Your Image can be as outrageous as you want, it’s motivation, not nessecerilly your goal. A video of muhammed ali gets you up and to the gym? Amazing! It doesn’t mean you want to be a heavyweight boxer, it’s just what motivates you personally.
If you don’t have a catalyst for change then you have to make it emotional yourself. Think about what will happen if you don’t make the change (obesity, heart disease), the benefits of making the change in regard to how you feel (better quality of life, better able to play with your kids) and how you’re perceived by others (the compliments you’ll get, the effect it will have on your love life). A slightly different but very effective method of introducing emotion to your resolution is a competition or bet with a friend. Ideally this will be with the type of person that won’t let you get away with losing and will hold you to the forfeit/ prize. In this sense choosing someone you actively dislike is equally effective. Nobody likes to lose and if you’ve set the prizes well, then the need to keep your dignity or money might see you through when nothing else will.
I find that writing down your goal, a small action plan setting out your stepping stone goals and your emotional motivation on a piece of paper makes a year’s worth of plans seem much more manageable. If you want to be very professional about it then make a folder for your resolution. I set mine out:
PAGE 1: Main goal + emotional motivation
PAGE 2: overview of stepping stone goals
PAGE 3 – ONWARDS: 1st stepping stone goal then what I need to complete it (food tracking, evidence of progress, any more motivation you find goes here.)
You can fill this folder with all things to do with your resolution and not only will it give you something to track your progress with and help you keep the big picture in mind, but it will begin to act as motivation in its self.
Spending a couple of hours planning your resolutions can be the difference between them lasting 3 days and 3 months. So take the time now, do it properly and I promise that with a little hard work you will reap the rewards.
Thanks for reading! I hope this helps.
George Studd Fitness Training