I am good at helping clients create concrete and achievable goals for themselves. We do this at the end of every session. Yet as 2019 approached, I got totally carried away in my own New Year’s Resolutions. I proclaimed, this year I’m going to get into the best shape of my life, as I turn 45. Yup, I went for the giant life overhaul resolution, an approach scientifically proven to backfire.
In my defense, Brendon Burchard suggests exactly this resolution in his High Performance Habits, a book I have been enjoying immensely. But maybe he was being hyperbolic? Did he simply mean, it’s worth working on getting in great shape, no matter your age?
Regardless of the original intent, I envisioned my new healthiest self ever: training to be lean and strong. In 12 months I’d become an endurance athlete able to complete a 50k cross country ski race and a (hula) hoop performer, lithe and graceful as a circus act. Fueled, of course, by copious vegetables, water, and sleep. Oh, and yoga and meditation, and sport specific training. I would be a beacon of health and fitness—cue God rays cascading around me—radiating strength and calm, inspiring friends, clients and acquaintances alike.
I am not usually so grandiose. It’s true that once I got it in my head that I could become an American Ninja Warrior if I just tried hard enough, but a couple laps on the monkey bars dissuaded me. (How do those people dangle so high up for so long from all those different obstacles?) Still, I often have grand visions of self-improvement. There’s a part of me that just wants to make an impressive change. Is this familiar to anyone else?
Thus, unwilling to let go of my immodest vision, I knew I had to turn a sort of dumb idea into a SMART (or SMARTER) goal, if I were to have a chance of attaining my goals.
Before I delved into acronyms, I took a quick jaunt into the history and psychology of New Year’s Resolutions and goal setting. Apparently the Babylonians made their resolutions at crop harvest time, some 4000 years ago. (The Economist has an interesting article on the topic.) There must be something in the human spirit that makes us want to do better, be better.
45-50% of Americans (depending on whom you ask) make New Year’s resolutions, and 8-10% manage to keep them. You might ask, what happened to all those who failed? But instead, I’d like to ask about the few who succeeded. What makes them so special?
Studies generally suggests we should pick reasonable (not giant) goals, make them into habits by practicing them often, creating cues and rewards, and using support.
But what motivates us when the phone goes off and a little reminder pops up that it’s time to hit the gym… but we feel tired? The missing element, I think, is the why of our goals. If we know why we want this goal and it matters to us, are we not more likely to climb out of bed and into our gym clothes? And knowing and caring about our why, are we better able to say no to that crispy, chewy ginger molasses cookie that is so not on our low carb diet?
If I was my own client—I’d have a fool for a client, as the old saying goes. Haha. Anyway. If a client came in with a goal like mine, I’d ask, why do you want to be in the best shape of your life?
Answer: I want to walk my talk, putting into practice all the wonderful health and well-being practices I advocate for my clients. I want to be the healthiest I can be so that I can be my best self possible, stave off disease, and enjoy life. That’s the positive side. The dark underbelly of my goal is vanity.
Well, at least a part of my “why” is lofty and well aligned with my life’s purpose and true values. And a part is not. Well, that’ll have to do. (If you are struggling with coming up with meaningful goals because you haven’t clarified your life’s purpose and values, I highly recommend taking the time to get out your journal and answer these questions.)
On to the practical side.
I’d argue that big goals are ok, but need to be broken down into small doable steps. I like this rendering of the SMARTER goal setting process.
Here’s what the practice looked like for me:
Specific: I plan to improve upon my baseline measures of: strength, endurance, flexibility and body fat. I plan to get adequate sleep, water, vegetables, and meditate daily.
Measurable: I don’t want to get too attached to numbers, but have ideas of where I’d like to be in 12 months. I would like to be able to do 10 pull-ups, squat 300 pounds, finish a 50k xc ski race in under 4 hours, get closer to a standing split, and get my body fat down to “athlete.” I plan to get up at least 8 hours sleep a night, drink my 64 ounces of water a day, have two servings of vegetables with most meals, and meditate for at least five minutes each day.
Attainable: I will need to do regular training to reach the fitness goals, but all these categories seem within reach of my body. The health habits are all doable. I’ve done them all, just not all at once!
Relevant: These goals are relevant because I will feel physically and psychologically better if I am hydrated, well-nourished, well-rested, mindful, and stronger. I will be able to do accomplish my dream of doing a 50k race, and improve flexibility for my hooping tricks. As for the body fat, I will feel better at a lower body fat and will be healthier, too. Especially if the baseline number on the gym scale was correct. Ugh.
Time-Limited: (Other sources say this should be “Trackable”) I have a concrete deadline of one year.
Exciting: When I imagine how good I will feel, I do feel excited. Especially the hoop and skiing related goals, which are mood boosters in my life.
Recorded: Well, they’re here!