As a fitness instructor, I know that health and wellness play a major part in fresh starts. I see the gym packed with new people in January, and I notice their energy as they feel the exercise high for the first time.
It’s a hopeful time, but it’s also a mere moment in time, since many of these people will be gone by March. Health and wellness goals are some of the hardest to stay committed to because they usually require changing behavior. What’s more, progress can be slow at the start, with little to show for your efforts.
This presents a challenge: How does one reconfigure routines in order to remain engaged and motivated?
For a start, writing things down can help, according to a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California. Gail Matthews has studied practices in goal setting. In one study, she followed the behavior of 267 people divided into two groups: those who wrote down their goals and those who didn’t. She concluded that those who wrote goals down and reported progress to a friend were 42 percent more likely to achieve them.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to record your goals; it can be as simple as drafting a few key statements to sum them up. Or you can choose an online app to guide you through the process.
Single mom and aspiring fitness and figure competitor Megan Townsend, who lives in Marcellus, starts each year with a visual reminder of what she wants to accomplish.
“I make a board that states my top goals: how much money I want to save, my fitness goals, etc.,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just a picture, other times it can be an inspirational quote. I put it in a place where I’ll see it every day and it serves as a constant reminder to stay focused.”
Declaring your intentions and desires through writing or vision boards is also a way to experience progress in the moment. Framing a workout plan for the week or spending time cutting images from magazines to keep you inspired from one day to the next are simple ways to stay engaged with the goal. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, you might not see the numbers on the scale change right away, but you can swap in an inspirational quote or try a new workout immediately. That can help keep your goal feeling fresh and exciting.
Marissa DeSantis, of DeWitt, is a mother of two toddlers. She uses a goal-setting concept from her work as an accounting manager for a trade association. “I make sure my goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. At work, we refer to this idea with the acronym SMART goals. It may seem cheesy, but I’ve found if I apply those same criteria to my personal goals, I’m more successful in achieving them.
“I live by the to-do list and inspiration boards, using both tangible and digital ways to note what I want to accomplish and how I’ll get it done. It’s about finding a way to connect all the parts together to get the bigger picture. Having inspiration boards around keeps me mindful of what I want to accomplish.”
I used a similar strategy while training for my first Ironman, which is a triathlon consisting of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles of running. I broke down my goal into several small steps and mapped them out on a bulletin board in my office.
The process forced me to think about what it would really take to make progress week after week throughout the year, and manage my needs around other areas of my life. Each week I sat in front of that board with a stack of index cards and Post-it notes, charting out the “mini-course” for the week, knowing it was part of a bigger picture.
When I completed a workout, I drew a huge X through it, and took great satisfaction in seeing that I was meeting these mini-goals day after day. It was a way for me to make the prospect of completing a 140.6-mile race seem less daunting and more doable with each week.
Whether you’re plotting a series of mini-goals to a bigger dream, or crafting a vision board, the important thing to remember is that this act is the first step in your journey. Every step marks a change in your behavior and mindset, leading to success in the new year.