Creating Effective Goals instead of Resolutions

TAGS: year's, resolutions, quick, flip, driven, new, Amy Wattles, goals

It is once again that time of the year. You know, the time when everyone has a resolution or has identified an area of need that he or she would like to improve. The coming weeks will be filled with new faces crowding the gym in pursuit of some form of self-improvement rooted in a New Year's Resolution.

By definition, a resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. Making a resolution is easy–sticking with it is the hard part. Oftentimes, the New Year's Resolution sets the stage for failure before the game even starts on January 1st.

Making a New Year Resolution is enviable, but it is not enough. Some common resolutions I've seen are:

  • “I want to lose weight."
  • “I want to be healthier.”
  • “I want to get stronger.”
  • “I want to be happier.”

The list can go on and on. At the heart of it, a New Year's Resolution is a goal. However, without conditions or criteria, the goal is doomed for failure.

Here are some goal development tips to help you transform an abstract New Year Resolution into a meaningful and effective goal for self- improvement.

1. Know Present Level of Performance

Before you develop a goal, there must be firm understanding of your present level of performance in the targeted area of change. If your present level of performance is written appropriately, it will assist you with what goal might be appropriate and what strengths you have to support the area of improvement. Identifying strengths is critical. These are the skills that will help support and build your proficiency towards your goal.

My example will be a generic and common resolution of, “I want to be healthier in 2014.” Healthier, stronger, happier, or lose weight are all common examples.

Current Present Level of Performance Example:

At this time my current overall health is fair. I lift weights three times per week which includes foam rolling, mobility, core, strength and speed work. My programming includes a conditioning component but due to time constraints, that is the first piece of my current programming that is skipped. My lifestyle includes unstructured, moderate physical activity approximately two times per week for approximately twenty minutes per session.

During the week at work, I adhere to my nutritional program which is designed to support strength increases and increase lean body mass. On the weekends I am more likely to ignore my nutritional programming. My compliance rate with my nutritional programming is approximately 70% and my body weight remains consistent. All major health indicators and blood work are positive and without issue historically and at the current time. On average, I sleep seven hours per night, soundly without waking up.

Overall, I feel well-rested and am generally not fatigued during the day. My relationships are positive and support any lifestyle changes I might implement. I have very little unstructured time throughout my day and have many demands placed upon me but am able to successfully meet those demands. On a personal level I feel fulfilled, I am challenged in the work that I do and I enjoy most aspects of my daily life.

The above outlined present level of performance includes comprehensive information related to the sample goal of being healthier, encompassing multiple aspects of the definition of “healthy.” Also included are conditions that may create barriers to achieving the goal. Through this process, strengths and weaknesses appear.

Strengths: 70% compliance with nutrition, consistently training three times weekly, good sleep, feels supported.

Weakness: 30% noncompliance with nutrition mostly during unstructured time, conditioning inconsistent, stress high.

2. Identify True Areas of Need based on Present Level of Performance

Suddenly you may realize there are more factors involved in your resolution that just trying to be healthier–whatever that may mean to you. Now is the time to study your present level of performance and identify what is your REAL goal. It is best to have one specific goal in order to encourage adherence. That one specific goal can then be broken up into smaller chunks that support the overall goal.

3. Be Specific

It’s time to get specific. Really specific: who, what, when, where, how, and why? If you can answer these questions it will assist you in making your goal more specific.

Referring to the above goal of being healthier and then later identifying the 70% nutritional compliance rate or the conditioning omission in training, these are key issues to start digging to better define barriers or a more specific definition of “healthier.”

For example, “increase time engaged in physical activity” can be made more specific by saying, “upon completion of my weekly training sessions during the week days, I will complete the conditioning component 8 out of 10 training sessions.”

Another example: "During unstructured times during my week (including evenings and weekends), I will eat according to my nutritional program 30 out of 35 meals per week (85% of the time)."

The present level of performance for nutrition was 70% compliance. Of course 90% + compliance is ideal, but the goal must be manageable. The goal can also have objectives designed to support the goal. These objectives build on one another in the process of attaining the overall goal.

For example, say you only engage in mild physical activity one day per week (14% of the time) and your goal for the year is six times per week (86% of the time) instead of sitting on the couch watching TV.

For this example I am using a generic “physical activity.” Physical activity MUST be defined and quantified for your own purposes. How will you define physical activity? Twenty minutes of consecutive activity, a specific intensity, target heart rate, walking, gardening, yard work for 30 minutes? However you choose to define "physical activity" or "healthier and happier," the target behavior must be observable. This means it can be seen and identified, not “felt” or based in subjective terms.

The sample goal and supporting objectives for the year can be:

  • “I will participate in indoor physical activity during unstructured evening and weekend times 2 out of 7 days per week (29%),” by March 1, 2014.
  • “I will participate in indoor or outdoor physical activity during unstructured evening and weekend times 3 out of 7 days per week (43%),” by May 1, 2014.
  • “I will participate in indoor or outdoor physical activity during unstructured evening and weekend times 5 out of 7 days per week (71%),” by July 1, 2014.
  • “I will participate in indoor or outdoor physical activity during unstructured evening and weekend times 6 out of 7 days per week (86%),” by August 1, 2014.

4. Your Goal Must Be Measurable and Attainable

Your goal needs to be specific enough that you can track your own data and compliance rate.

Have a plan on how you will track your data and then execute that plan. Data collection does not have to be a massive undertaking. It can be as simple as a monthly calendar with a check mark indicating days that meet the defined criteria for physical activity and an “X” for days without physical activity.

Each day can be divided into AM and PM in order to track trends concerning specific days of the week, time of the day, etc. Having a visual representation of your data will allow you to easily identify trends, timing, potential barriers or issues related to your overall progress towards your goal that you might not otherwise observe. This data should be utilized in order to best support your progress towards your goal.

It is unrealistic for any goal to have 100% compliance or to be based on complete elimination of something. Without wiggle room for error, once an individual cheats or does not comply with their goal, they have failed and are far less likely to adhere to their goal. Also avoid terms like “look good,” “feel better,” “be happier.” These types of goals are not measurable and are based on subjective criteria, unless you are able to better define and rework the goal so it is measurable and attainable.

5. Know When to Complete and Revise Goals

Know at the start what your ending criteria and targeted completion date are. Will your work end after the loss of 20 pounds or will you then switch your efforts to maintenance? Lose five inches in the waist? Maintain the loss all year long?

You should be documenting your progress data, which, in turn, might give you some insight on things to change or to better support you to achieve your goal. At maximum, your goal is for one year. Half way through the year, you may decide through your data analysis that your original goal isn’t really addressing the true issue. If that is the case, amend your goal.

Don’t be afraid to make changes to the original goal, but only if you determine a more effective route or factor related to one of your areas of need identified in your present level of performance. Perhaps in your quest to be healthier, you initially identified physical activity as the component to change. However, your most recent blood work indicates issues. So, you determine to redefine “healthier” as it relates to your nutrition.

As you embark on another year of opportunity and challenges, it is important to have goals in order to continue the pursuit of self improvement. With some basic evaluation, planning and data collection, you can make sure that your New Year Resolution is relevant, attainable and meaningful to support the improvements you would like to make.

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