Monday, January 2, 2012

A Resolution Is Just A Fancy Word for "Goal."

According to, the ten most popular New Year's Resolutions are as follows:
  • Drink Less Alcohol
  • Eat Healthy Food
  • Get a Better Education
  • Get a Better Job
  • Get Fit
  • Lose Weight
  • Manage Debt
  • Manage Stress
  • Quit Smoking
  • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
  • Save Money
  • Take a Trip
  • Volunteer to Help Others
More than half of them are health-related, which tells you that: (1) People know they're in piss-poor shape, and (2) they know something has to be done about it. But the problem, it seems, is that folks aren't sure how to achieve their goals. According to University of Minnesota psychology professor Marti Hope Gonzalez, research indicates that 80 percent of those who make New Year's Resolutions fail to keep them past February -- only to start over again the following January.

Ten years ago, a study published in American Psychologist termed this cycle of futility the "False Hope Syndrome" -- a phenomenon "particularly common among those who resolve to lose weight" due to “unrealistic goals and a misunderstanding of [their] own behavior.”

So what's the answer? How can we set goals and actually achieve them?

My thoughts:

Be reasonable. All goals -- not just resolutions -- should be S.M.A.R.T: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Simply saying that you want to "get healthier" isn't going to give you any metrics by which you can track progress or hold yourself accountable. Instead, set milestones and deadlines to check up on your incremental progress. And don't go crazy with unattainable resolutions -- otherwise, you'll rob yourself of the satisfaction you'll feel when you hit your goals.

Focus on behaviors and actions, not results. A resolution like “I wanna drop 30 pounds” or "I wanna deadlift 3 times my bodyweight" offers you no path to success. Instead, make a checklist of concrete, doable actions that’ll put you in the right direction -- like "I'm cutting sugar from my diet for the next 21 days" or "I'm signing my ass up for a 100-burpee challenge."

Do some research. So what if Gwyneth Paltrow eats nothing but twigs and does hundreds of reps of 3-pound lifts? And who cares if Rich Froning subsists on a diet of chocolate milk, protein shakes, and peanut butter and jelly? Blindly copying others won't transform you into a skinny movie star or the Fittest Man on the Planet. Before you set a goal, consider whether it's something that's actually likely to do you (or others) some good.

Tell people about your goals. It's all too easy to let yourself off the hook. If no one knows about your goals, no one'll get on your butt about sticking to them. But if you're serious about your resolutions, yell it from the mountaintops. (Or, more realistically, Facebook.) You don't have to be annoying about it, but make sure your support system of friends and family are aware that you're marching towards a goal so they can: (1) help you; (2) understand why you're not eating bread all of a sudden; (3) kick your ass if you try to give up. Plus, I've found that one of the greatest motivators is peer pressure (a.k.a. public shaming.)

Make it fun. If it's not enjoyable, it's not sustainable. Want to know why people don't stick to super-restrictive diets? Because they feel deprived. And why don't folks keep going to the globo-gym after January? Because endlessly climbing a StairMaster in slow motion is mind-numbing. So devise ways to keep things fun and interesting -- whether it's by using a kick-ass iPhone app to track your weight loss progress or by joining a running group.

Lastly, don't save your resolutions for January. Who says you can only set personal goals once per annum? Keep setting short- and long-term goals for yourself throughout the year, and work to methodically check 'em off the list.

Go to it, people.