The best goals have long roads ahead of them, which is why getting there should be part of the fun

It’s no surprise that fitness centers see a nice healthy bump in new client registrations, or that the local bookstore will have a table set up with diet and fitness books featuring the newest programs. Yes, January 1st is the most optimistic day of the year, but February is approaching fast, and already those books are being marked down and treadmills are starting to open up at peak time in the gym. According to Richard Wiseman, a researcher based at University of Hertfordshire in the UK, recent studies showed that only about 12% of people in the study were able to stick to their resolutions — but there are ways to improve the odds.

Wiseman’s even posted a simple quiz to help us figure out the likelihood of achieving our goals.  I tried it out for two of my goals, one fitness-related, and one related to maintaining this blog. For both I scored somewhere in the “medium” range, meaning I have some good goal-setting/achieving habits, but I probably need to help myself out by incorporating some more tricks of the resolution trade, like:

  • Work a plan: Breaking resolutions into smaller goals or tasks that can be scheduled and completed. For instance, right now I’m drafting a post for each of the three major categories on this blog. After that, I’m going to get up to 10 posts.
  • Let the cat out of the bag: Share goals with supportive family and friends. Sometimes it’s easy to let ourselves down, but we’re conditioned to try harder to keep promises to others.
  • Visualize: You’re making this commitment to change for a reason. What’s the end goal? How will it feel to achieve it? Write this down, or find a key image that you can come back to for inspiration.
  • Write it down: Journaling is a great for a couple of reasons. One is that if you hit a plateau, being able to look back over your logs (whether it’s mileage, mets, reps, or calories) can help you diagnose and adjust your plan. Second, is that if you track how you’re feeling, you learn a lot about what works for you and what blocks you from progress. Work stress? Offhand comments from a well-meaning but clueless gym buddy?
  • Cheer yourself on: Reward yourself for progress, and don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes. Just get back in the game!

These are just a few tips that Wiseman found had a demonstrable impact on likelihood of achieving goals. I have three more:

  • Love the journey: Anyone who’s set out to achieve a major goal, whether it’s training for a marathon, losing weight, or getting a new job knows that some days getting from point A to point B can be a dull, frustrating slog. But if you’re not a little in love with the goal and the process of achieving it, you’ll never see it through. I’ve tried every fitness craze out there, and I’ve been crazy about a lot of them. Here are a few of my favorites that I’ve tried over the years: pilates, running, cycling, boot camp, yoga, martial arts, spinning, rock climbing, dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing. And yes, I went so crazy for dancing that I got certified and now teach a few times a week.
  • Pick your own hot date: January 1 is just a day. So’s Monday, by the way (and if you’ve ever gone off your fitness plan and justified it by “I’ll be good starting on Monday” you know what I mean). Personally, starting a new endeavor on Jan 1 is a little too much pressure for me. I’m still recovering from the holidays! This is why I tend to get started on my projects and resolutions in the February timeframe. Pick a day and go for it!
  • Assemble the troops: Sharing goals is a great idea, but what about finding some like-minded people to achieve common goals? I’m participating in a team challenge with some friends this spring; there’s nothing like social reinforcement to help you create habits that will last. There’s no way I’d be an aerobics instructor without my Saturday morning workout buddies — they convinced me to give it a shot, stuck it out with grace and humor as I flubbed my way through the first few months, and they still show up every Saturday morning for our 9am dance party!

Friends that get strong together get strong friends forever.

Last year I came up with a list of goals for 2009 and achieved about half of them. I’m looking at the list now, there were 20 items! That’s too many things to focus on. This year I’m picking just one goal in each category (Adventure, Art, Fitness, Career, Lifestyle) and setting up a plan. And then convincing a few people to come along for the ride — not just because it’s more likely to happen — but also because it’s more fun that way. 🙂

Shameless plugs for Jazzercise (can’t help it, I love it!):

Setting goals:

Goal-tracking tools:

  • FitDay:  If your goals are fitness oriented, you’ll want to check out FitDay, which lets you log both nutrition and exercise info, help you set reasonable goals, and give you the ability to see trends in your own behavior.
  • Polar:  Omygosh, downloading data from your heart rate monitor onto your PC and analyzing it is so much fun. Really. Especially if you are consistent about using a heart rate monitor.
  • Google docs: Especially useful when working with a group, progress can be tracked in a shared google spreadsheet in a pinch