Even if you don’t make formal resolutions on January 1, you’ll set some goals for your training at some point during the year. Whenever you do it, you’ll want to take ownership of your goals with the right approach. Here are five tried-and-true strategies for setting your goals and reaching them in a timely manner.
1. WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS
Simply writing down your goals makes them real. They’re out of your head and on paper, which increases your accountability.
A famous informal study of the 1979 Harvard MBA graduating class found that students who wrote down their goals went on to become exponentially more successful. When asked if they’d set written goals and a plan to achieve those goals, 13% of students said they’d written their goals down, 3% said they’d written goals and made a plan, while 84% hadn’t written any goals at all. A 10-year followup found that the 3% who had goals and a plan were making 10 times as much money as the other 97% of the class.
Whether this story applies to business school grads or athletes, the point stands: Writing down your goals and having a concrete plan gives you the best chance to reach those goals. Write them somewhere you’ll see them every day: in your planner, your refrigerator or even on your bathroom mirror (in dry erase marker).
2. MAKE YOUR GOALS SMART
You can’t set just any goal and expect to be successful. Your goals need to be SMART, an acronym that stands for:
The more details you can flush out, the more carefully you can formulate a plan. For example, “I want to lose weight” is a common goal but is far from SMART because it contains no details. “I want to lose 10 pounds” is a little better because it’s measurable, but it still contains no details on a timeline, which will determine its attainability.
“I want to lose 10 pounds in two months by exercising four times a week and tracking my calories” is an excellent SMART goal because it contains all the necessary details to plan and track your progress.
3. SET PROCESS GOALS
This is where the plan truly starts to come together. You’ve set your larger goal (e.g., “I want to lose 10 pounds in two months”), and now you need to set smaller daily and weekly goals that will lead you to the larger goal. Setting process goals and using the calendar method gives you objective feedback on how well you’re sticking to your plan.
For example, losing weight requires you to consume fewer calories in your diet, expend more calories through exercise and get plenty of sleep and minimize stress in your life. Splitting your health-related goals into these four categories (nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management) will put you in the optimal metabolic environment to shed unwanted weight. Your process goals should create healthy habits that will make these things a reality.
If weight loss is your goal, you might set the following daily process goals:
Nutrition: Meet my protein and vegetable intake goals.
Exercise: Perform 60 minutes of exercise four days per week.
Sleep: Be in bed by 10 p.m. six out of seven days per week.
Stress Management: Practice focused breathing for five minutes every day.
Once you’ve set your process goals, use the calendar method to track your process. Made popular by record-setting powerlifter and researcher Greg Nuckols, the calendar method is a simple and effective way to make sure you do the little things to get to your goals.
How to do it: Get a standard monthly calendar and write a letter for each process goal in every daily box (in the above example, you’d write N, E, S and SM in each day). Each day, put an X by the appropriate letter if you accomplished that daily goal. At the end of each week, count the number of Xs to evaluate your performance. A perfect week would be 28 Xs, but anything over 24 is excellent. The more often you can hit your daily process goals, the faster you’ll reach your larger SMART goal.
4. ASK FOR HELP
As uncomfortable as it may be, asking for help can be the difference between reaching your goals and falling short of them. Very few of us can reach our goals alone, so enlisting the help of others is often the exact boost you need in your journey.
You’ll want to surround yourself with people who support and understand your goals. Research shows that social support is an essential component of creating a healthy lifestyle, especially when trying to lose weight. That means asking your spouse, roommate or partner to be understanding and supportive of your goals. Whether that entails accompanying you to the gym, going grocery shopping with you or just lending an ear, the people around you can help keep you accountable to your process goals.
Also consider hiring a coach. Whether it’s a personal trainer, registered dietitian or similar health and fitness professional, having someone to craft an individualized plan to help you reach your goals can make all the difference. It can be daunting to ask for this level of help, but if your goals are truly important to you, it’s worth the time and money to hire a professional.
5. PUT MONEY ON IT
This one’s a little controversial, but it’s pretty effective since people are highly motivated by money. If you’re one of them, here’s a quick trick that can help up the ante for reaching your goals.
Tell someone you know about your goals, give them some money and tell them not to give it back to you until you reach your goal. Make sure it’s an amount that you’ll miss it if you don’t get it back. Set a firm and realistic deadline for goal, and agree that if you don’t meet your deadline, your friend gets to keep the money.
Simply knowing that there’s money riding on your success or failure can be just the boost you need to hit your daily process goals and eventually reach your larger goal.
CHEERS TO 2017
You can make 2017 your best year yet with the right goal-setting approach. Use these five strategies to set realistic goals and draw the road map toward reaching them.