Every year on January 1, gyms start filling to capacity and fresh vegetables leave the shelves as soon as employees stock them. But this kinetic enthusiasm fades — quickly. In fact, the second Friday of January is dubbed “Quitters’ Day” due to failing New Year’s resolutions.
Consider taking new approaches to goal setting to help you stick with your new year’s health ambitions. Experts provide eight goal-setting tips to get you going:
SEGMENT THE GOAL
“The old-school method of setting big goals that are far in advance has shown to be incredibly demotivating,” says Mike Clancy, certified strength and conditioning specialist and personal trainer.
Instead, borrow a goal-setting technique from the military known as segmenting. This method is “a practice of mentally breaking your goal or training objectives into small, manageable pieces and forgetting entirely about the big picture to focus on what’s immediately in front of you,” says Craig Weller, who served as a Special Warfare Combat Crewman (SWCC) and spent nearly two years on the High-Threat Protection team for the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad in Iraq.
Weller explains how segmenting works: Let’s say you want to run a half-marathon in six months. “If you wake up on Monday and lace your running shoes while thinking about that entire six months as a whole, it will feel unmanageable and overwhelming,” he says. Instead, focus on the smallest task right in front of you and slowly move the goal post forward.
For example, when your alarm goes off, your target is to simply get out of bed. Then, your next goal becomes to get your shoes on and get out the door. “You don’t think about the next 26 weeks of workouts ahead of you. You think about this workout, today,” Weller says. When you do get running, you break the process down into narrow segments. On easy days, you might set a goal to run the entire way, or on tough days, maybe you set a goal to run the next 100 meters or until the song ends on your playlist.
TRY QUANTITATIVE GOAL SETTING
Greg Pignataro, certified strength and conditioning specialist and physical therapist at Grindset Fitness, finds quantitative goal setting a significant motivator for clients. When you set quantitative goals, you focus on metrics, quality and relevancy. For example, Pignataro shifts clients’ questions from “How much muscle do I want to gain? and “How much weight do I want to lose?” to “How strong do I need to be?” and “What is a realistic level of body fat for me to sustain?” This gives your goals purpose and significance to your life, making you more likely to fulfill them.
USE POSITIVE LANGUAGE
Steer clear of any negative words during the goal-setting process. For example, rather than set a goal of “When I run a race, I will not get stressed out that morning and instead, wake up early,” say, “I will stay calm and at peace on race morning. I will wake up earlier with a feeling of joy and excitement.” “By making a positive goal, it trains your brain to put it into action,” says Katie Ziskind, yoga therapy practitioner.
COMMIT TO AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER
“One of the most difficult parts of achieving goals is staying accountable and tracking progress,” says Kara Fasone, PhD, an industrial organizational psychology specialist. She asks clients to identify two accountability partners during the goal-setting stage. For instance, a client with specific weight-loss goals could join a Facebook forum and add a regular workout companion. “This client could post weekly updates in the weight-loss forum and commit to exercising three days a week with their workout partner,” she says. Public obligations and support make follow through more probable.
HAVE A PURPOSE
We have all created, or at least seen, poster boards filled with magazine cutouts of dreamy bodies and other representations of what we want in life. Julie Lohre, certified personal trainer, alum of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” says to take these vision boards one step farther by putting images into words and listing out goals — something often lost during the vision-board creation process. “I like [clients] to list out 4–5 goals that they would like to achieve one year from now. Once we have those numbers we can start filling in the gaps between long-term goals and short-term action items.” Those short-term tasks can follow the segmenting method listed above.
FOCUS ON THE PROCESS
Nix setting standard goals and set “themes” instead. Rob Bell, PhD, sports psychology coach and author of “No One Gets There Alone,” says, “The more we focus on the process, the outcome takes care of itself. Themes allow us the freedom to do this.” For example, your theme for a week could be something as straightforward as “Be Patient,” and you center on not stressing about sitting in traffic, waiting for a treadmill to open at the gym, etc. You should find yourself able to concentrate more on your workouts rather than letting stress hinder them.
To hold yourself accountable, log your meals or get a planner or a journal and keep track of what you do. You don’t even need to spend a lot of money. “It is easy to find one at the dollar store or you can find a good deal at Marshalls, online or at the bookstore,” says Helen Godfrey, a licensed professional counselor. “It can be extremely motivating to see your consistent effort even if you aren’t seeing the results yet.
KNOW YOUR “WHY”
You need to connect to your why. “We can talk all day about ways to set goals, but if my clients forget for a second about why they’re doing it, they will lose motivation and likely quit,” says Ryan Hooper, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist. He says once they establish a clear picture of their “why,” then the daily push to seek out and accomplish goals materializes.
“I have had many clients who sought out to complete the Chicago Marathon, but it took a good cause, like providing clean water to others, that helped them to get out of bed every day to put in the training miles,” says Dr. Hooper. Sometimes you need to dig deep to find your “why,” but once you do, you unleash a powerful motivator.
Originally published December 2018, updated January 2023
Ready to take the next step? Unlock MyFitnessPal Premium to access custom goal settings, quick-log recipes, and guided plans from a registered dietitian. Premium users are 65% more likely to reach their weight loss goals!