Written by: Coach James “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” – Epictetus It’s that time of year again, where so many of us who have allowed our fitness goals take a back seat to the holidays are swearing off alcohol, sweets, and other vices, replacing them with promises to reclaim our physical and mental health as a priority once again. Some seek out new gym memberships, others a new fad diet, while still others may look to meditation to calm their minds in the new year. Each we make resolutions, but what is going to make this one truly different? What is going to set you apart from the others, who often give up on their promises to themselves long before they’ve had time to see any objective positive changes? It starts with the only two things we can really control: our attitude and our effort. When it comes to goal setting, a lot of people make the mistake of focusing on the negative aspects of their current lifestyle, seeking to remove the parts they don’t like. A couple examples might sound like this: “I hate the way I look. I need to lose 15 pounds. I’m going to cut out all carbs from my diet.” Or “I’m so lazy. I need to quit being so worthless, start waking up at 4am every day and get my lazy ass to the gym.” While these both may serve as motivation in the short-term, these instances of negative self-talk can have frustrating long- term effects. The first time you give in to birthday cake in your company’s break room, or you hit the snooze button on your alarm clock and miss your early workout, you feel defeated and you beat yourself up mentally. Change is often really difficult, and by overcommitting yourself to a new idea and leaving little room for grace if you slip up even once, what can often happen is a trip down a vicious cycle. Using the example of ‘cutting out carbs’, we can see how an obsession with removing the ‘bad’ things from our diet (restriction) leaves us feeling unfulfilled, which ultimately leads to binging, guilt, and a repetition of the series. Instead, consider what might happen if rather than focusing on removal of the negative, you decided instead to focus on adding in things that were beneficial to your goal. What if you committed to drinking a glass of water first thing every morning before your morning coffee? What if you made it your goal to include a lean protein source at every meal? What if you dedicated 10min at each night to stretch before bedtime, or to read from a book you’ve been meaning to start? While these changes may sound insignificant by themselves, they can have big compounding effects over time. First, the momentum you build from successfully completing them gives you a small sense of accomplishment, which releases dopamine and makes you feel good. This gives you the motivation needed to do it again the next day, and the next. In just a few weeks, you’ve created a new habit, and eventually that habit gets woven into your lifestyle, becoming automatic. Second, adding in beneficial habits can spontaneously push out some of the negative ones. If you’re well hydrated and satiated from a high-protein breakfast, maybe you won’t be so inclined to reach for that donut. If you’ve created a nightly routine and found ways to wind down before bed, you might improve your sleep quality and won’t feel so lethargic when it’s time to get up for that early workout. Finally, when you do start to notice changes in your energy, body composition, and/or mental clarity, it’ll likely prompt you to begin new habits, or continue to optimize your current ones. Fill your day with positivity and you won’t leave any room for those negative thoughts. The other side of the coin when it comes to success is effort. It’s too easy to say that people are lazy, and if they just tried harder, they’d find success. I think what’s more likely is that people are putting a lot of effort into spinning their wheels around things that don’t matter in the bigger picture, because they don’t have a framework to make an appropriate plan. They know where they are, and where they want to be, but not how to bridge the gap between the two. While it’s important to start with the end in mind, it’s equally important to work backwards and develop an actionable plan to get there. One common strategy for doing this is to use the acronym SMART. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Timely. By looking at your overall goal and breaking it down using this context, you can set yourself up for success. Goals, in order them to have real significance, need to be specific. Losing weight, toning up, or eating better are not specific goals. One thing to ask yourself might be: “How will I know I’ve got there?” This will help to make the direction you need to head clearer. Next, you need to find a measurable way to gauge progress. What gets measured gets managed, and it’s the only objective way to know if you’re putting your efforts into the right places. Keep what work, throw away what doesn’t and continue experimenting. You may find at times that you’re lacking in motivation, which is where the attractive piece comes into play. Think of this as your ‘why’, your overarching reason for pursuing this goal to begin with. Sometimes it helps to ask the why question three, four, or even five times to dig deep and get to the real reason this goal is important to you. Once you’ve established a strong ‘why’, the next question to ask is whether the goal is realistic. While the response may be a simple yes or no, the only way to answer confidently is to do a little research and determine who else has been in your similar position and already succeeded in what you’re setting out to accomplish. What things did they do? What barriers did they encounter? Learning more about others who have been where you are can give you a great deal of perspective on where and how to place your efforts. Finally, you need to choose a finish date. Goals without a timeline are just wishes. Combined with your measurables, a timeline can help assure that you’re on the right track and can assist developing the plan. That isn’t to say that the date won’t change due to unforeseen circumstances, but without one, the sense of urgency that fuels action often isn’t there. By concentrating on the addition of positive habits and directing your efforts in a meaningful way, you’ll have already distinguished yourself from the pack, giving you a huge first step in making 2019 your best year ever. As I’ve said before, if you would like more help/direction in this area, please schedule some time to sit with me or any of our coaches to discuss. We’ve all had our own struggles and successes, and we’re here to help!