Written by: Strength & Conditioning Coach, Mark Nemish
It’s that time of year again: setting your own resolutions for the upcoming New Year! For some of you, getting into that dress you bought three years ago or fitting into an old pair of jeans you wore before you had children are a couple resolutions that may ring a bell. We all have at one time or another set fitness goals with outcomes that are appearance based in nature. In addition, we all have encountered failure in achieving these goals, leaving us upset or depressed about our inability to achieve our New Year’s resolutions. Commitment and thus success in achieving our fitness goals begins in how we define success!
In sport, business, and life in general, we all set the bar to a level we wish to achieve. And we all have been told that when setting your goals, to make sure they are challenging, realistic, measurable, etc. All true and important, but even when we follow all the correct rules of goal setting, we can still end up failing to achieve them. If we look at one of the New Year’s resolution examples above, in order to fit into that pair of old jeans, it may mean losing 20lbs of body fat. This goal is measurable, probably challenging for most, and somewhat realistic, the degree to which dependent on the timeline to lose 20lbs of fat (couple months vs. a couple weeks). Yet some of us correctly set goals like this and still fall short in achieving them.
Firstly and above all else you MUST set goals that are process-based, not just outcome-based. It takes a very special person who can devalue their appearance, especially in a world that is 100% appearance-based. What clothes we wear, what cars we drive, how our hair looks, etc seems to be central to Western culture. Basing your goals on appearance is an outcome; what you do on a daily basis to achieve that outcome is the process. Set your goals on what you will do on a daily basis to achieve that outcome and then do everything you can to forget about that outcome and focus only on the process! In other words, you must worry much more about the process of working out and eating properly than jumping on the scale every second of the day or evaluating yourself in the mirror each morning. To do this you must have a plan and use foresight in your planning.
Focusing on the process of your fitness goals means detailing your plan of attack. In the busy world we all live, especially if you have children involved in sports or other extra-curricular activities, you must plan your time to work out. Many of us fail in our fitness endeavors because we don’t set time aside to train but instead we allow other things to get in the way. For example, if the only time you have to work out is at 6:00 am in the morning, make sure you take care of all your morning chores the night before. Secondly, having the energy to train is very much dependent on eating properly, and at the right times, and getting plenty of rest each night. Getting the proper sleep is crucial in waking up energized and ready to face the challenges of the day. This doesn’t mean planning out 10+hours of sleep each night; some of us can do fine on 6 hours of sleep. Rather, it is the quality of uninterrupted sleep that counts. Far too many people fall asleep watching TV only causing them to wake up to shut it off. Drinking too close to bedtime can result in waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. All of these things in addition to others can rob us of the deep sleep we need to recover for the next day. If you are tired the next day, your workouts will suffer and for some be skipped all together.
For many, achieving the goal of getting into those coveted pair of jeans means a change in lifestyle. If you don’t regularly eat breakfast, set a goal of getting up each morning to eat. Feel successful and motivated each time you wake up early to eat a good nutritious breakfast. Also feel good about getting yourself to the gym each day or getting up early to take your 1hr morning walk. If your demons are poor food choices, remember that the old saying “You are what you eat”. If you snack on sweets like chocolate, pastries, cakes etc., you will crave those food choices. First thing is to not have them in the house. Replacing junk snacks with other healthy snacks should be a priority or a primary process goal. Once off the junk, you will not crave it. When you’ve cleaned up your diet, feel fantastic about that achievement. Achieving these process-based goals will lead to feelings of internal control. This is what will lead to the commitment required to achieve your overall resolutions.
We as a society must shift some our focus from valuing our appearance to valuing who we are and what we do on a daily basis. My old sports psych professor engrained a quote in us as students: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you’re winning or losing (that counts)…It’s not whether you live or die, it’s whether you’re living or dying.” Thus focusing your fitness goals on appearance-based outcomes can often end up as a win-lose proposition for many. If we place the majority of our personal value on living a healthy lifestyle we will feel more in control leading to greater feelings of success and thus achievement. Remember the number one motivator to a committed program is success. Commitment to your day in day out process-based goals is the “Winning Mentality” that will eventually get you back into that dress you bought several years ago. Having said that, even after all your efforts you may still fall short of getting into that dress. It’s OK if that happens because if you continue your lifestyle change, you will achieve that outcome; it may just take longer than you thought. Don’t fall into the trap of subscribing to the “world must always be fair” irrational belief. We are all created differently and it may not be fair that someone can eat anything she wants and never gain an ounce yet the moment we smell French fries three pounds are put on. Guess what, the world isn’t fair and never will be.
Stay rational and focus on situational excellence. Don’t dwell on things that are out of your control and succumb to what is or isn’t suppose to be fair as it relates to you. Good luck with your New Year’s fitness resolutions and relish in your new lifestyle!