Welcome to 2016! New year, new you! New Year’s Resolutions are deeply ingrained in our culture, and each year millions around the world proudly declare how this year will be different. Unfortunately, the statistics on these resolutions are anything but encouraging: 45% of Americans regularly make New Year’s Resolutions; of these, nearly 2/3 involve fitness oriented goals as part of their resolutions.

1 in 3 will abandon their resolutions before the end of January, and only ~8% are successful in making lasting changes based on their resolutions.

resolutionsSo where’s the disconnect? The idea of making big changes in your life that will lead to increased health and happiness in the future is very romantic, but many people’s resolutions read more like a wish list than a plan. A wish list item might be “I want to lose weight”. Fantastic! How much weight? By what date? How are you planning to do this? Are you increasing your activity level, choosing a specific diet plan to reduce your intake or a combination of both?   How will you stay accountable? Without a detailed plan and a reasonable understanding of the sacrifices you will have to make to follow the plan, you are doomed to failure before you start.

Many gyms lifeblood are the wave of resolvers who buy memberships in January (often with contracts), and then end up rarely or never using them. They keep costs down for the gym rats who spend lots and lots of time there. This isn’t even including those “gyms” that actively sabotage their members with “pizza day” and free bagels… yes, I’m looking at you, Planet Fitness.

Given the depressing statistics on New Year’s Resolutions, lots of people have given up on the practice altogether. Unfortunately, many have interpreted their prior failures as evidence that they can’t make positive changes in their lives at all; it’s too hard, or they don’t have the willpower, yet they remain chronically unhappy with their current lives.

There are some ways to set goals (or resolutions if you prefer) that have a better chance of success. Here are a few tips that might help.

smartSet SMART Goals

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. These have been described in detail elsewhere, and I won’t waste too much space here. Take it as a given that making your goal SMART is equivalent to setting a detailed plan of action; you’ve automatically gone well beyond the “wishing” stage.

Find Your Why

Why are you setting your goals? What’s the payout? Losing weight to look better in a bikini may be less efficacious at keeping you on track for your goals than setting a healthy lifestyle example for your children, or heading off cardiac and metabolic diseases that may prevent you from seeing your grandchildren. When you have a powerful WHY, it makes it easier to accept the difficulty of the path before you.

Accept the Sacrifice

Any worthy goal requires sacrifice. Want that ripped 6-pack? It’s going to take many hours in the gym and, even more, grueling hours in the kitchen; meal planning and counting calories. Want to finish your first marathon? It’s a lot more likely if you put in the time on your training plan to build up to some long runs beforehand. Embrace the suck; the more difficult the accomplishment, the greater the satisfaction in completing it.

Make it Fun

Especially if your goals are fitness related, this is crucial. If you are constantly grinding away doing activities you hate, the odds of sticking to your goals are pretty low. Don’t get me wrong, it’s likely that you’ll need to put in some grind to perform at a relatively high level or to achieve difficult goals. But if it’s all grind, you’re doing it wrong. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve taken from obstacle course racing; it’s a fun activity that helps keep my training focused and constantly gives me new areas to work on.

Please note that there are activities you can start out hating that you’ll find the fun and beauty in later; much depends on your mindset. For years, I hated running; it was a chore that I did for cross-training purposes. I still have ambivalent feelings about running at times, but I’ve learned to enjoy the feeling of bombing down a trail or finding new areas to explore this way. How did this change come about? I blame OCR. It made racing fun for me, and this, in turn, leads to an increase in trail and hill running as an obvious way to improve my performance at Spartans and other obstacle races. I initially embraced the suck as a necessary step in my goals, then began to find the fun in trail running on its merit.

Sign Up for Something Scary

This last one is my preferred method of self-improvement. Simply put, I sign up for shit that scares me, preferably with a reasonable amount of time – anywhere from 6 months to a year – to prepare for it. Having paid my entry fees and stating publicly that I’m doing it is a wonderful motivator to train and grow into the athlete I need to be to succeed. This is not a guarantee; I’ve still felt woefully unprepared going into events, have earned a DNF, and had to postpone an event or two to recover from injury, but it has led to success far more often than not. This method has caused me to pick progressively bigger and scarier challenges along the way and has gone hand in hand with my growth as an endurance athlete.

Go ahead. Make your resolutions, set your goals. Then set a plan to achieve them. You can succeed in making big changes in your life whether they’re health and fitness oriented or not.