And so, it's 2021. My social media feeds have been filled with resolutions from people all over the world—'will get fitter this year', 'will travel more', 'will give up smoking', 'will read more books', the possibilities are endless. But a few months down the line, what do you think happens? The resolutions get forgotten as daily life takes over once again.
What makes resolutions so difficult to stick to? It’s not as if our goals suddenly cease to matter. It’s just that we make resolutions that are simply not achievable. “The motivation for following any resolution can be both an outside incentive (say, a promotion in office if you meet all your deadlines) or from within (for example, if I cut down on sweets, I will decrease my chances of falling sick in the long term). But if the rewards are not immediate, it is very common to lose motivation. Short term, realistic targets which you can see month on month, makes you feel good and stay on track,” says Neeraj Raj B, Consultant Psychiatrist, Aster RV Hospital.
An interesting discovery was made by scientists in Sweden who conducted what they called the world’s largest experimental study on New Year’s resolutions in 2020. According to the study, published in PLOS One on 8 December, approach-oriented New Year's resolutions had a higher success rate than avoidance-oriented resolutions. What this means is that a resolution which lets you add something to your lifestyle is likely to succeed more than a resolution where you decide to cut something out from your existing lifestyle. For example, picking up zumba as a new form of working out is going to be easier than, say, cutting out junk food (tell me about it!).
When you think about it, resolutions are regularly made, and resolutions regularly fail. A goal, however, has more success stories. What’s the difference between the two? Or is it about approaching the same thing differently, with a different mindset?
As Delhi-based psychologist Prerna Kohli, puts it, “A resolution is the firm decision to do or not to do something, a promise to yourself. It is usually more open ended and entails altering some aspect of your lifestyle. On the other hand, a goal is an object of a person’s ambition or target that involves planning and preparing. It is usually more precise, involves a time-frame and milestones, action plans etc.” Kohli’s advice is to pick up bite-sized goals over long-drawn ones which might be unachievable. If you wish to lose 12kg a year, don’t say I will reach XYZ target by Dec 2021. Instead make smaller goals of losing a kg every month.
However, don’t set a goal just for the sake of doing so. Learning how to make smart goals is half the trick, believes Sophie Nonnenmacher, an international coach for Box Nutrition. She says that people should focus on three main goals. “This is how you stay focused and keep your goals achievable. Start small. Break down your goals into weekly habits that you are sure you can achieve. Be realistic, keep it simple and honest. Very importantly, think of how you plan to measure your goals and the way you achieve them. Write your goals down. This serves as a reminder and motivation for you,” she says. You can share with friends on social media, tell your coach about them, use an app, a whiteboard, whatever works for you. Start today. No habit needs to wait for ‘Monday’ or ‘next month’. If it is small and achievable, you can get right to it.
Why does it have to be specific and have a time frame though? Won’t it be less stressful, and more flexible, if it wasn’t?
According to a CrossFit Journal article by Greg Amundson, the creator and lead instructor of the CrossFit Goal Setting Course, a goal needs to do three things. “A goal must be specific. The more focused the definition, the more opportunity there is for precise planning, preparation and training. Second, a goal must be expressed by the coach and athlete in the positive tense. In order to maximize human athletic potential and harmonize the mind-body connection, coaches must teach their athletes the significance and power of positive expression. And finally, a goal must contain a time frame that is realistic and achievable while at the same time providing the athlete with a certain amount of challenge and motivation. A goal set too far in the future will lack the urgency and fail to create the internal fire needed for accomplishment. On the other hand, too short a time frame may lead to discouragement and despair.”
CrossFit games athlete Ben Smith used to keep a list of goals pinned to his garage door. The act of writing down his goals made them real and immediately increased the probability of him reaching them. Success in CrossFit—or anything, for that matter—is about doing a bunch of small things consistently over a long period of time.
According to head coach and founder of CrossFit Himalaya, Piyush Pandey, the best way to achieve goals is to set specific and measurable goals with a target date. “You should keep a track of your major performance goals and make a habit of reviewing them frequently. You can do this by scheduling a specific day at three, six, nine and 12-month intervals to review these goals,” he says. Members at CrossFit Himalaya have been encouraged to submit written goals to the coaches who will then plan their journey to achieve those targets within the set time.
The thing is, at the end of the year we want to feel positive about our achievements. Be they small or massive, the pride and sense of accomplishment of achieving them is unmatched. So, get your notebook out, write down your goals with a target time and work towards it, one step at a time.
Here’s my resolution: I want to increase my pull ups by at least five counts from my present levels by July 2021.