New Year’s Resolutions: Made by Many, Kept by Few


by Devin Sarno, NSCA-CPT

Whether or not it was related to your fitness and health, chances are you have made at least one New Year’s resolution during your time; if not many. Maybe your resolution was to make more time for your family, or to budget your finances better, or get more sleep, or the infamous resolution…to lose weight or get in shape.  Regardless of which of these resolutions you’ve made, how well have you done with sticking to them? Unfortunately, many of these resolutions are met with minimal action. Change is difficult for anybody, but positive change needs to be taken seriously if you want it to happen.

Two things in particular that I believe make a resolution difficult to adhere to are when they are open-ended and not specific enough. If your resolution is an open-ended goal with no timetable, it is extremely easy to lose sight of what you are actually trying to accomplish. This applies to any goal you make. If you say that you’d like to lose 20 pounds and I ask you when you would like to lose that 20 pounds by but you have no clue, then nine times out of ten you will probably not lose that 20 pounds. If you do not give yourself any sort of deadline, there is next to no incentive to formulate a legitimate plan in order to try to get to that endpoint. Also, if your goals lack specificity then there may not actually be anything significant. Let’s say you make a goal to lose weight; will you feel accomplished if you are 1 or 2 pounds lighter by the following year? Maybe you will, and that’s great! But more times than not, 1 to 2 pounds is probably not what you had in mind when you set out to “lose weight”.

These two aspects of goal setting are extremely important, but still only just a piece of goal setting. Complete goals or resolutions need to be SMART goals. This acronym stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. While the two aspects discussed already definitely fall into the SMART, there is a little more to those two aspects as well as some additional pieces your goals should include.

What does it mean for a goal to be specific? In my opinion, the entire rest of the acronym falls under the umbrella of specificity. When you state a goal that you want to set out and accomplish, anybody else that hears your goal should know EXACTLY what you are trying to do. Try your best not to leave anything up to interpretation. The more vague your goal is, the more wiggle room your give yourself to alter it or even ignore it to a certain degree. If you lay out a very detailed and specific goal, it should have multiple pieces that you need to hold yourself accountable to. A specific goal might look a little bit like this: “I want to lose 2% of my body fat in the next 90 days.” Without diving too much into the other aspects of SMART since they will be covered, this particular goal is very specific in that you not only know that I want to decrease my body fat percentage, but you know by how much I want to decrease it and when I want to do it by.

A goal being measurable is a goal that can be quantified. It needs to be something you can calculate today, as well as 90 days from now.. In the previous goal example, the measurable aspect would be the 2% body fat. I can have my body fat percentage taken today, as well as 90 days from now and anytime in between. If your goal is not quantifiable, then you have either one of two things: an out or an excuse. If I just tell my best friend that I want to lose body fat in the next 90 days, after that 90 days is up they may tell me I do not look any different. With my goal not having any specific measurable aspect to it, I can then say something like, “I decided that I just wanted to get stronger” or “Well my body fat percentage went down 0.1%” when in reality that is a change that can happen just based on how hydrated you are.

Achievability is another extremely important piece to goal setting. There are also two ends of the spectrum to this. You can set a goal that you might not ever have a chance to achieve, or in some cases you may be setting a goal that you can achieve with one arm tied behind your back. You need to find that happy medium. Let’s say you want to lose weight and the number you come up with is 30 pounds in 90 days; there are a couple of things you should consider before committing to trying to lose that much weight, especially in that amount of time. First, how much do you weigh currently? Your height and body type considered, do you think that you actually have 30 pounds to lose? Next, if you do have 30 pounds to lose; considering all variables in your life do you believe that is something you can do in a healthy way over 90 days? Knowing that you will probably need to commit to 3-5 days a week at the gym and a total overhaul of your nutrition habits, does this still sound reasonable? For a goal to be achievable the answer to all of these questions needs to be yes; otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure.

A relevant goal is probably the easiest to attain but the toughest to explain. The way I look it relevance in relation to your goal is: does your goal line up with your lifestyle. If you have never been to a gym in your life and you dine out 3 or 4 times a week, getting a 6-pack probably isn’t going to be the best goal for you. If you go to the gym 3-5 times a week and maybe dine out once or twice a week, the same goal may be a little more relevant to your lifestyle and in turn more attainable. Try not to set a goal that just makes no sense relative to the way you live unless you are willing to make a major lifestyle change to try and accommodate that goal.

Lastly, your goal needs to be time bound. Give yourself deadlines, or multiple deadlines so that you are working towards goal today rather than just expecting it to happen eventually. If you just say you’d like to lose 30 pounds, even if you do I am willing to bet you don’t do it as quickly as you’d like. With that being said, progress that moves slowly may also be discouraging and make it extremely easy to give up on your goal. If you say you want to do it in 90 days, then you can break that goal down and say, “To make this happen I need to lose a pound every 3 days; or 7 pounds every 3 weeks”.  A time bound goal is extremely important to being able to being able break your goal down into smaller pieces, and breaking your long term goal down into 3 or 4 or even 5 short term goals gives it the appearance of a goal that is more within your grasp than you may have initially thought. It can be motivating to achieve those short term goals along the way, or even a gut check if you do not reach it and realize you need to be doing more to eventually reach that long term goal.

One overlooked piece that I believe relates directly to achieving your goals is having a support system. If you have somebody else holding you accountable, it produces a sort of motivation that you cannot simulate on your own. In the case of a fitness related goal, maybe it’s a trainer, significant other, or best friend that is right along your side for the journey and helping you keep your actions in line with your goals. Especially if you have a shared goal with somebody, you are almost certain to push yourselves to levels that just are not reached on your own. If you can give yourself a partner to help hold you accountable and your goals are SMART, you are going to be far more likely to succeed in your journey!