Losing weight and getting fit are some of the most popular fitness goals for new year transformation. They are also the most commonly broken, according to TIMES magazine, with research suggesting that at the 12 month milestone we can expect a mere 8% adherence rate.
Interestingly, further research indicates that it is not a lack of motivation that prevents us achieving our fitness goals but rather counter-motivations that get in our way - such as placing priority on work and or social engagements before our keep-fit routine.
An interesting article written by Dan Shaw over on the-sport-in-mind blog explores the ingredients of an achievable fitness goal as well as how to maintain your new found fitness in the long term. The general concepts he discusses, taken from the field of sports psychology, do seem to make clear and good sense.
The power of our habits
Dan stresses the importance and the power of our habits - "We are creatures of habit!" Apparently, 40% of our daily actions are formed of habitual routine rather than decisive action. Therefore to create new and long lasting behavioural change we must aim to create supporting habits and be prepared for the inevitable 'old-habit' relapses.
What is the best way to create new, positive habits? One model involves 5 purposeful stages:
- Pre contemplation
Many fitness goals are loosely committed to by skipping the first 3 stages resulting in a much higher risk of failing to maintain the new habit for any length of time.
If our fitness goal was a New Year's Resolution then ideally we would have reached January already in stage 4, the action stage, where we have already begun to change our behaviour towards the new habits we want to adopt. People who start the new year already at stage 4 of their New Year Resolution are apparently the most successful at maintaining their goals. But, it may not come as much of a surprise that it is believed most of us head into January in stages 2 or 3 still considering what and how we will realise the new parts of our selves and the supporting new habits.
Whether a New Year's Resolution or not, fitness goals at any time of the year will benefit from these same important factors.
Set smaller, progressive milestones - be specific
Dan stresses the importance of setting specific dates and milestones for each stage and clearly outlining action intentions, not just high level goals. The goal "I will exercise more" doesn't really have the necessary punch to actually make you exercise more. Being more specific such as - "by XXX ( suitable date) I will jog 3 miles 3 times a week"
This can and should be taken further still. If you simply head off and jog 3 miles 3 times a week -how many weeks will pass until you bore and your busy life takes priority again over your fitness resolution.
After outlining your clear action intentions it is necessary to note the reason and benefits for your efforts and what the progressive stages will be to reach the final milestone.
- I will jog 3 miles 3 times a week for 4 weeks to increase my fitness
- I will attend the gym once a week for one hour to work on full body strength to maintain muscle and stability
- After 4 weeks I will increase my jogging distance to 6 miles but reduce frequency to 2 times a week
And why am I doing this? what are the benefits?
- I am increasing my capable jogging distance in preparation for the 10mile charity run I intend to complete in 4months time
This is a very simple example but you get my point. I can visualise the steps and clearly understand why and where I am headed.
This goal meets the following criteria:
- It is attainable (not unrealistic)
- It is measurable ( jogging distance increases and strength gains in the gym, due date for the charity run)
Since the goal is clearly measurable then suitable rewards can and should be factored in. Give yourself a suitable reward or celebration for reaching each milestone. Rewards help you stay on track and recognise achievements you have made along the way.
Dealing with setbacks
A setback could be an injury or extreme fatigue sustained in the early stages of your new fitness routine. Such challenges can easily lead to the demise of your motivation and ultimately bring a hasty end to your fitness goals.
If you acknowledge the potential risk for setbacks you can prepare to deal with them. In the example above injury or fatigue (common risks) can be avoided by ensuring you start off slowly with small step changes. If you are unaccustomed to jogging don't start with 5-10 miles sessions. Start with 2 miles rather.
Other setbacks can by completely unrelated to your fitness activity such as work or family commitments that cause you to miss a week of training. If you do not remain focused on your intention it would be very easy to slip back into the old habits after this challenging week and not return to your training plan.
If and when a setback occurs ask yourself the following questions to help you face them and progress past them as soon as possible:
- Did I do too much to start with?
- Were my goals or first milestone realistic?
- Was the setback totally unavoidable but short-lived?
- How and when can I start again?
Setbacks are just that - they set you back. Depending for how long your setback lasted will determine the degree of setback. You may have reached a peak lift weight of 60kg's for leg squat in the gym but a week or two off from training due to the setback has resulted in your comfortable lift weight being reduced to 50kg's. You must accept this and start again from this point and continue forward. As Dan states - slow progress is still progress!
Don't compare yourself to others
Remaining focused on your own performance and achieving mastery of your set task is of highest importance. This is referred to as being 'task orientated' where you strive to perform your technique to perfection.
The opposite to this would be ego orientated where your focus is more on merely beating or outperforming your competitors or peers. Instead of aiming to improve your own running times or weight lifting weights, an ego orientated individual is purely aiming to run faster or lift heavier than the person next to them. Being ego orientated is associated with a lack of internal motivation and therefore eventually leads to a greater decrease in motivation.
Focusing on your own performance and improving your own personal-best times and weights is far more motivating and will do more for your self confidence in the long run, affording you a much higher potential for achieving your goals.
Summary of the key points for achiveing your fitness goals
- Plan your goals through the 5 stages - Pre contemplation, Contemplation , Preparation, Action and Maintenance
- Train with a friend or exercise partner
- Keep a training diary with your achievements so you can monitor your progress
- Write down your goals and place them somewhere you will see them everyday
- Tell your friends and family about your goals
- Seek support and advice from a personal trainer
- Prepare to deal with setbacks
- Give yourself healthy rewards for your successes
It is important to understand the state of your current health before committing to an increase in activity level. If you are new to exercise or very unfit, if you have any current health concerns or are overweight it is advisable to seek the advice of your doctor beforehand.
Best wishes for your success and enjoyment of your fitness goals. Happy training.
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