This is the time of the year when tens of thousands of people around the world make resolutions (apart from a wishlist for Santa, secret or otherwise). Health is the most popular subject, as multiple polls have shown over the years. Resolutions are great for providing a definite sign that people want to improve their health. But as many as 80% of resolutions are broken within the first three months, as a ComRes poll in the UK found in 2015. Up to 66% don’t even make it past the first month.
The problem is with the word ‘resolution’, according to Sandeep Sachdev, co-founder and nutritionist of Easy Human fitness studio and café in Mumbai. “It is a daunting and scary word. That’s why so many people give up,” he says.
When setting resolutions, we tend to try to overhaul our lifestyles, says Shannon Beer, a coach and nutritionist certified by the UK’s Mac Nutrition University. “We promise that we will get 8 hours of sleep per night, start training 5 days a week, cut out all of our favourite foods, stop drinking, start yoga... We might be able to keep this up for a couple of days before we slip back into old habits,” she says.
Instead of resolutions, set yourself goals, not unlike what business leaders set for their teams and trade. “You don't need to change everything in order to see results. It can be far more effective to focus on small changes at a time. Have a think: what’s the biggest improvement you could make right now? This could be as simple as eating one piece of fruit per day. By identifying your area of weakness, you can prioritise the most important things to work on. This will move you towards your goals in a way that is easier to sustain rather than taking on too much and giving up,” suggests Beer.
Set small, specific goals
Both Sachdev and Beer suggest setting smaller, achievable goals can lead to success. “We tend to have unrealistic expectations of success. We’re exposed to extreme transformations in the media that make it feel like we aren’t matching up,” says Beer. Two of the biggest errors we make while setting health and fitness goals are trying to take on too much at once, and not making the goals specific enough.
Which is why Mumbai-based actor and director Takesh Singh sets himself specific goals every year. His goal for 2020 was to adopt a fitness regimen that improved his flexibility and fixed his backache without bulking up. For 2021, he wants to keep his weight at current levels and maintain a physique that can adapt to whatever his role might require. “It is very important to set goals,” says Singh, “and fitness is no exception.”
Once you have identified where to start, make your goal as specific as you can. A goal “to exercise more often” is very vague. “It doesn’t tell you when, where, how and for how long you will do this. Make sure your goal is specific and measurable: ‘I will go on a run for 20 minutes on a Monday and Wednesday evening at 6pm’ is a much more effective goal,” says Beer.
She recommends that your goal be something that you can accomplish rather than avoid. “Setting a goal to eat less chocolate doesn’t give you anything to move towards; but setting a goal to snack on fruit is something you can focus on and measure,” she says.
Stay motivated despite setbacks
As with anything else, suffering setbacks in your fitness goals is common and you should take them in your stride. A strong source of motivation helps overcome these setbacks. Things don't always go to plan and that’s okay. Being able to pick yourself up after a setback is a crucial part of progress. “Rather than criticising yourself, try to be less judgmental. If you’re too busy criticising yourself, you might find it difficult to pinpoint areas of improvement. Treating each setback as a learning experience will help you to keep moving forwards,” advices Beer.
It also helps when you have a reason to make the change you desire. “Often we want to see some physique changes to help us feel more confident. It helps to consider why else this change is important? How would this change the way you live your life?” says Beer.
Broaden your idea of success. If the goal is fat loss, keeping track of your scale weight can be a good idea; but there are other things you can focus on too. How are your clothes fitting? How are your daily energy levels? Is your mood lifting? Is your confidence improving? These are all signs of progress that you should pay attention to.
However, Beer also encourages that you think back on why you thought a change in your lifestyle was important in the first place. “If one of your goals is to have more energy for your relationships, then paying attention to those changes is important too. Regularly reflect on how other areas of your life are changing as you progress towards your goals,” she says.
Another tip for setting achievable goals is to think about obstacles that might get in your way. Is there anything that might stop you going for a run at 6pm on a Wednesday? What if the weather is bad? What will you do if you don't feel motivated? “It's important to think about these things in advance and make sure you have a back-up plan,” says Beer. “If I don't feel motivated to run, I will put on my running shoes any way and just start with five minutes is a good strategy.”
How to set your fitness goals
Step One: Be clear about your goal. It helps to really understand why this is important to you.
Step Two: Make your goals specific, measurable, achievable and realistic. Set a definite time-frame.
Step Three: Anticipate barriers that may get in the way and have a plan in place for them.
Step Four: Write your goals down and tell someone about it. This will help you stay focused. Keep track of your progress, such as ticking off on a calendar each time you achieve your goal.
Step Five: Review your goals and learn how to pick yourself up when things don't go to plan. What's going well? What isn’t going so well? What do you need to change?
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.