In a bid to get more active in 2022, I made an appointment with a trainer earlier this month. He shared some insight into his experiences in the new year—including his clients’ new goals.
“January’s a crazy month for me. Everyone makes their resolutions to get fit, so it’s a busy time,” he says. “The thing is, it all dies down by early March.”
I know what he means. That’s the thing about resolutions: They’re set on January 1 and often forgotten before spring.
If anything, resolutions have been proven year after year to not work. One of the reasons this happens, according to Lifehack.org contributor Steve Errey, is that too often, “resolutions are decided upon by looking at other people’s expectations or by reading a magazine that tells you how to ‘get fit by summer.'”
Stop smoking? Start exercising? Eat healthily? More work/life balance? These all sound good on the surface, Errey explains, but says “typically a resolution is based on what you think you should be doing, rather than what you really want to be doing.”
Setting more realistic goals with more appropriate timelines can help you avoid the overwhelming year-long commitment that tends to cause so many to give up. Here are some recommendations for goal-setting and why I believe resolutions are never the answer.
Get clear on what you want most
To achieve success, you have to make the goal reachable and connected to what you value. As Errey notes, to find meaning, we have to focus on what we really want.
But what exactly is it that we really want? According to a recent New York Times article, plenty of resolutions fail because they’re not the right ones. The writer Jen A. Miller points to three main reasons for this:
- They’re based on societal ideals (not your own)
- They’re not specific enough to aim your efforts toward
- They’re not supported by a measurable achievement plan
The first step toward setting realistic goals is to first have an honest talk with yourself about the reasons behind your desire for change. Are you facing societal pressure to get fit? Are your friends or coworkers pushing you to create new habits? Or are these goals ones you know will lead to a healthier, more positive lifestyle?
Getting clear on your why will make it easier to commit for the long term.
Don’t kid yourself with your goal-setting
I want to be honest here: 2021 has been an especially tough year for many of us, and it’s only natural to want to hit restart in the new year, hoping it will solve all our problems. But this also makes it more likely that we’ll try to go full steam ahead and end up sabotaging our efforts.
The Biggest Loser coach Erica Lugo understands the importance of setting goals. She tells The Today Show on NBC that considering smaller goals makes it easier for people to fulfill them. “Too often, I hear people talk about how they’re going to eat perfect and train every day, but it’s not doable because it’s too far off anything they’re currently doing,” she says.
A smarter approach, she notes, is to plan ahead. Say your goal is to exercise more this coming year; a more realistic promise is to pick three days out of the week you’ll commit to working out—but also think of your peak physical hours—and then organize your schedule accordingly.
“It’s no coincidence that successful people follow schedules,” says American professional bodybuilder Steve Cook. “A schedule allows you to create habits,” he says, and habits, he explains, are important because they’re something that no longer takes self-control to complete.
Get comfortable with less than perfection
I’ve been fortunate enough to count on a personal trainer who not only pushes me, but also motivates me to be okay with just trying my best. If my push-ups or pull-ups aren’t in perfect form, he gently nudges me in the right direction (“You got this, you’re doing great”).
As a recovering perfectionist, I get the allure of wanting to excel at anything new you start. But the truth is, change is hard, and feeling overconfident doesn’t do us any favors. “When you’re convinced your goal is going to be easy—and you conclude you’re overqualified for the job—you’ll likely find yourself unprepared and ill-equipped to face the reality of the situation,” says psychotherapist and Business Insider contributor Amy Morin.
Her recommendation? “Acknowledge that it’s tough to delay gratification, and push yourself when you’re tired. Saying it’s going to be difficult to stay on track doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re being realistic.”
Do a perspective check
Here’s my problem with resolutions: They don’t actually cause us to change our habits. We’re so focused on one specific result that we fail to address the underlying thinking that can lead to unhealthy habits.
For me, before beginning a new goal, I like to take some time away and reflect on my big picture. To live a more balanced, meaningful life, the changes I want to make should align with my values, first and foremost.
One final point: The only constant in life is unpredictability, which goes hand-in-hand with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. How many resolutions were made and then derailed? How many of us became disillusioned and consequently gave up?
I’ve learned that it’s the internal changes we make that matter most. “Living a full life isn’t about making . . . half-hearted decisions that don’t really mean anything,” Errey says. To make decisions you can feel proud of, consider what goals speak to you most, aim for those, and don’t look back.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of Jotform, an online form builder.