On January 1, gyms around the world will overflow with the annual influx of fair-weather fitness fanatics armed with the same New Year’s resolutions they’ve had for the last decade.
These newbies will come out guns blazing for a couple weeks. They’ll show all the signs of wanting to make fitness a priority in their lives. Then, once the dust settles, they’ll be gone.
Why can’t the New Year’s crowd ever stick to their resolutions? What is it about their approach that leads to cancelled gym memberships while long-time gym rats endure?
The fair-weather crowd consistently falls off the wagon due to poor goal setting.
There’s nothing wrong with riding the wave of psychological momentum you get at the start of a new year and joining the fitness crowd at your local gym.
But if you’re serious about sticking with fitness beyond the first two weeks of January, here are seven steps to properly setting and obtaining your fitness goals in 2017.
Step #1: Be Honest with Yourself
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to goal setting.
As much as I want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, that’s never going to happen.
Your goals need to be realistic and specific.
An unrealistic goal is the quickest way to get frustrated and eventually give up. You’ll have no way of knowing if you’ve achieved a vague goal, which will also lead to frustration.
So rather than aiming to be the next Schwarzenegger in 2017, try setting goals like these:
- I want to get a six-pack this year.
- I want to add 5-10 pounds of lean muscle.
- I want to reduce my body fat by 5 percent.
Once you have achievable and clearly defined goals, work backwards to break each goal down into smaller monthly goals that can be easily measured.
For example, if I want to add 50 pounds to my squat in 2017, my micro goal should be to add at least four pounds every month in order to hit 50 by December.
If you want to make fitness a habit that sticks, start by setting an attainable goal.
Step #2: Visualize Your Success
A powerful tool you can use to achieve your fitness goals is visualization.
Michael Phelps famously used this technique during his Olympic training. His coach, Bob Bowman, told Michael to “play the videotape” every night before he went to bed.
The videotape was Michael’s visualization of him swimming the perfect race. The moves he saw in his head came second nature to him when he entered the pool.
Michael’s 28 Olympic medals are a testament to the power of visualization in achieving goals.
One way that you can use visualization to achieve your fitness goals is to find a picture of the type of body you’d like to have and save it on your phone.
Look at the picture every day and envision yourself having that body. That mental image can serve as fuel when you’re struggling to finish the final set of your workout.
You should also visualize your next lift when you’re working out. Focus on proper technique and envision yourself completing the number of reps you’re targeting.
You’ll be amazed at how often your videotape plays out when you use this technique.
Step #3: Create a System
If you don’t have a system in place to achieve your goals, you’re headed for certain failure.
This is another area where being honest with yourself pays huge dividends. For example, if you’re a night owl, you’re not going to wake up consistently for morning workouts.
You’re most likely to succeed with a system in place that includes afternoon or evening workouts.
Whatever system you create needs to include three 45-minute workouts every week.
You need to dedicate one day to each of the major compound lifts: squat, deadlift, and overhead press. You can mix in cardio if you want, but it’s not necessary.
Each workout represents a micro goal that you can check off once you complete it. Like your monthly goals, each small win moves you one step closer to achieving your big goal.
If you want to increase the chances you’ll stick to your system, schedule your workouts in your calendar, whether that means a physical planner or in your phone.
I have an appointment on my phone calendar for each day I work out. Each week when I input the workouts, I include my goals for each lift to provide some extra motivation.
This simple task builds in accountability because you’re forced to think about your workouts, and if you ignore that reminder, you’ll be disappointed in yourself.
Step #4: Start Building Habits
Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called The Power of Habit in which he explained that habits are comprised of three main parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.
- The cue is the trigger that starts your habit. New Year’s can act as a fitness cue, as can the calendar reminders on your phone.
- The routine is you going to the gym three times a week and working out.
- The reward is the benefit you receive from taking that action.
It is important to recognize this sequence or loop in which habits are built and ensure that your system includes all 3 elements, including the reward.
A small reward I enjoy is eating a Quest Nutrition bar as my treat after working out. You need to find your own small reward—it will create a positive feedback loop and reinforce your new routine.
Once you start implementing habit-forming into your system, exercise will eventually become a part of your life just like brushing your teeth or going to work.
A lot of people don’t dissect their fitness plan down to this level, but systems and habits are essential to achieving the specific goals you’ve set.
Whatever new habits you need to form, my advice is to start working on them right now! If you’re not fired up and ready to kick ass at the outset, fitness is not for you.
Step #5: Track Your Data
For your system to work, you need to provide it with constant feedback.
Write down your reps as soon as you finish a set. Don’t count on yourself to remember them week to week because you’ll almost certainly forget.
Tracking your data helps you gauge whether your system is working by marking your progress towards your monthly and overall goals.
This is where having smaller monthly goals comes in handy.
Like road signs counting down the miles to your ultimate destination, it’s easier to gauge your progress against a series of targets that are closer together than against just one that’s far away.
But you can’t mark that progress or gauge your success unless you’re tracking your data.
Step #6: Find External Accountability
The fitness industry is not a billion-dollar behemoth because people desperately want information. Everything they need on that front can be found online for free.
People pay the fitness industry for accountability.
Whether it’s a coach or a fitness program, people will shell out crazy money as a way of holding themselves accountable to their fitness commitment.
You can go that route, but there are plenty of free routes to accountability:
- Find a friend who shares your fitness goal and commit to working out together.
- Take a “before” photo and compare it against progress photos you take each week.
- Post about your fitness journey online so others can see your commitment.
- Social media platforms and fitness websites are home to tons of people going through the same struggles as you. Join a network and encourage each other.
Whatever you choose, external accountability makes achieving your fitness goals much easier.
Step #7: Iterate Your Plan
Achieving your fitness goal is not a simple one year endeavor you’re undertaking starting January 1, after which you can coast the rest of your life.
Fitness is a journey you’re undertaking for the rest of your life. As such, your systems and habits will change as your body changes and your current setup loses its effectiveness.
Flexibility is key to fitness. You need to be nimble and able to adapt quickly.
Let’s say you outlast the New Year’s crowd and chug along until April, at which point life gets in the way and you fall off the fitness wagon. At that point, it’d be easy to quit for good.
But rather than throwing in the towel, adapt your system to suit where your life is now.
The same truth applies when you reach the other side of your fitness goal. What are you supposed to do now that you’ve reached your personal mountaintop?
You simply start this process all over again with a new goal in mind.
Whatever issue you’re facing, find the holes in your system and patch them. If you need to work out at a different time, switch times. If you need a new accountability partner, find one.
Your fitness goals are too important to throw away at the first sign of a setback!