Using smart goals for success with your resolutions

1 January, 2014
Using smart goals for success with your resolutions

People think that sports Psychology is only for elite athletes, helping them by combining their physical skill and technique with mind exercises to enable them to discover and unlock their individual physical and psychological potential within their sport and in their day to day life facing the pressure that is a part of being an elite athlete. However, because everyone thinks that sports psychology is only for the elite the ‘general’ exerciser doesn’t look at the many benefits and therefore don’t reach any personal goals in all areas of their lives and get the most out of their training. Sport Psychology assists amateur athletes and fitness enthusiasts by unlocking their physical and psychological potential.

One of the main things people lack in the New Year is sticking with resolutions and find that the promise they made to themselves falls by the waist by March. A huge amount of people who join the gym give up and therefore gyms are rubbing their hands together as they have thousands of people who pay for memberships and don’t use their facilities. The majority of people who have set new goals/promises have given up entirely after a few months and have gone back to their routine from the year before, so going back and staying in their comfort zone and doing their old workout becomes a typical habit year in, year out. This substantial drop-out rate is not just down to lack of motivation but to a diverse range of reasons that hinder motivation including unrealistic goals, trying to accomplish the goal too fast, a lack of measuring or monitoring the goal, lack of setting milestones, not having fun or giving self rewards, a lack of time and other pre-existing commitments such as social or work related events; these may include such excuses as trying to get more done at work, avoiding anticipated pain or fatigue, wanting to spend more time with friends and/or family, the same excuses that appear time and time again. Thinking and planning the route to your goal and how you are going to do it is just as important as the goal itself and also thinking and listing any obstacles that will prevent you from pursuing your goal. Try to make your gym plans fit around your social, work and life commitments, not the other way around. If you have a very limited time for the gym on one day you should still make the effort to go to the gym and do a short intense workout, remember 30 minutes is better than not going at all.

Commencing a new lifestyle choice is not just about making plans, having the intentions and telling people that you are going to change. You may have made the plans you made in the previous year due to your behavior and lifestyle choices from the previous year, we are creatures of habit and habits are powerful and they cause a lot of our daily actions being habits rather than new decisions. Therefore if you want to have a good chance of success with your new found motivation and resolution, you need to change your thoughts towards how you actually want to behave and be consciously aware of avoiding slipping into old habits and creating new thoughts and behaviors so you can break the pattern of choosing the wrong goals or not following your goals. The best way to start and set a goal is to follow SMART criteria.

Goal Setting: When you have set the date you’re going to begin your new resolution, simply having the intention to start with the idea that “I want to get fit” or “I will exercise more” is not enough. Setting action intentions (saying exactly what you are going to do to meet you goals) will increase your success rate, so you should break this overall goal down into smaller, more manageable goals and counterparts that are specific to how you are going to get fit. These are called SMART goals:

Specific: What do I want to accomplish? What are my specific reasons, purpose and benefits of accomplishing the goal? What is involved? You need to identify requirements, constraints and list resources available (what you need to achieve your goal, are there any outside influences that could hinder your goal and what resources have you available to help the goal be successful).

Measureable: How can I measure my goal to know it’s successful? What markers can I put in place on the road to my goal? How much do I need to do to get there? If the goal is not measureable, it is not possible to know whether you are making progress towards successful completion. Measuring aids, staying on track and reaching target dates/markers increases motivation through knowledge of achieving your smaller goals.

Achievable: Is this goal realistic to what you can achieve in the set time frame? Goals that are extreme or out of reach may be considered meaningless as you work towards them. Attainable goals are important to keep us motivated when we are having difficult times as we know that what we are doing is achievable. Also, what outside influences will affect your goal and how can you can work with/around these is important to list, so if you encounter any hurdles on the way you are prepared and won’t let them hinder your path.

Relevant: Are your smaller more manageable goals going to contribute to your overall goal? Is the training you are doing this week/month setting you up for meeting your goals for next week/month? Are your goals relevant to you and not influenced by someone else? If your goals are set or influenced by someone else you wll be less likely to stick to them as they are not relevant to you and haven’t been chosen by you.

Time: What is the exact time frame that you will complete these smaller goals and the exact time that you want to reach your outcome goal. Are these times achievable and realistic? Can I dedicate to the time I need to reach the goals or do I need to extend the length of time I have given myself due to other outside restraints? Can I fit what I need to do into my life as much as I want to reach the final goal time frame? Don’t be over optimistic with time as we all have lives to live and these need to be taken onto account. In Sport and Exercise Psychology, goal setting is one of the most frequently used methods with athletes to break down large goals such as ‘Winning a gold medal at the next Olympic Games’ into smaller, much more manageable and measureable chunks.

Reward yourself: Celebrating the milestones when you successfully meet them is an important factor in maintaining and staying on track. Positive reinforcement of a behavior has shown to be beneficial in research exploring behavior change time and time again (Skinner, 1948). A goal that is all work and no play is not going to be fun for you to work with and may actually increase the risk of relapse or throwing in the towel. Therefore when you hit a goal successfully, reward yourself. However, remember that this reward will be more beneficial and will keep you on track if it fits with your now found healthy lifestyle e.g. If you have finally reached your goal of jogging 10 miles per week, reward yourself with a new pair of running trainers. If food rewards is your thing, make it a healthy snack instead of a Big Mac or overindulgent piece of chocolate fudge cake.

Will power: One of the cornerstones for successful behavior change is willpower. You have to work on will power like a muscle, the more you work on it the stronger it will become. Self restraint or the ability to resist temptation such as skipping the gym or eating too much bad food can be strengthened but it needs practice to be strong. Large changes and an intense exercise regimen can cause willpower fatigue over time as you are constantly working mentally and physically. You can help your willpower by making small changes, so that maintenance of your exercise program and temptation to skip a day is easier to resist, don’t be too hard on yourself.

Be prepared for relapses; Resolutions normally meet their downfall with the first relapse. Drastic changes and life events decrease will power, therefore encouraging drop-out from your resolution. Be prepared for relapses, they happen, its how you deal with them that counts! The way to deal with this issue is firstly not to start too large, ease into your resolution and increase the intensity with time and progress. Secondly, when you hit a relapse, instead of throwing in the towel, look at the reasons for the relapse. Did you start too intensely? Did you set unachievable goals? Did barriers that you did not anticipate when designing your plans stop you from achieving your goal? Knowledge of why you relapsed is the key to driving forward and starting again but more importantly ‘forgive yourself’; you are human and you are fallible, we all have a life that can take over at times so never be hard on you!

Tips for a successful change:

  • Social Aids: Exercise with a training partner. Use friend groups to let them know about your success or use them for support when you didn’t meet a goal. Read fitness magazines and fitness blogs to help you motivate yourself.
  • Training/food diary: Use a training diary to write down your progress, food diary, accomplishments and even thoughts and emotions that you can revisit for support, or compare your performances to your past ones.
  • Write it down: Write down your long term, mid-term and short term goals and markers along the way. This will make them concrete and less likely to change as times get hard. You may wish to put them on the fridge to make them visible or tick them off as you complete them.
  • Use reminders: Simple things such as placing your running trainers near the door can act as cues to remind you to exercise or a screen saver on your phone. Book your training session into your diary like a meeting, so you will be more likely to stick to it.
  • Give it time, it’s not going to happen overnight! Most resolution makers give up too early, persistence is imperative. When times get hard, you may wish to refer to emotions or performances recorded in your training diary or talk about it with a training partner or friend for support.

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