Making Your New Year’s Resolution Last

By Nickie Hayes

New Year’s resolutions are one of the tools in life you’re really excited about when the year is starting, but by spring, you’ve probably forgotten about. Resolutions can be troublesome to maintain, but what can you do to stay on track? 

Well, many health professionals rely on SMART goals to make sure themselves and their clients stay on target. The smart in SMART goal is an acronym.

The acronym for SMART. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

You may also see slight variations in the acronym, but each letter variation has the same premise. Achievable may be attainable, realistic may be relevant or time-bound may be time-anchored or timely, but again, they all mean the same thing.

Matthew Salvatore has been director of the SUNY Plattsburgh fitness center for almost 30 years and is a certified personal trainer and a certified strength and conditioning coach by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He said when utilizing a goal setting method like this, it helps to make certain you reach your fitness, wellness and health objectives.  

“Typically what you hear from individuals is ‘I want to lose weight and get in shape.’ Well, that’s a very broad generalization of fitness,” he said. “So, what we try to do with the SMART acronym is get people to focus specifically on what their goals and objectives are.”

Setting clearly focused goals is more effective and efficient than your typical New Year’s resolution. 

What do the letters mean?

First, the s in SMART is specific. You want to specify exactly what you’re going to be working toward. 

“I’d like to reduce my body composition, my body fat percentage by X percentage, maybe 3 percent or 4 percent, for example,” Salvatore said. 

Next the m stands for measurable, which means just that. You want to be able to periodically assess your goal and have a way to evaluate your progress. In the fitness industry, this may be in the form of one repetition max of a bench press or a squat, which takes into account a person’s muscular power, strength and endurance, along with cardiovascular capacity, flexibility and body composition. 

You’re essentially creating data to track how far along you’ve come. Thus, you’d want to do a preliminary assessment of your goal, so later on, you can see the progress yourself through the data. It also may aid in mitigating a plateau in your growth and prevent you from doing the same types of activities all the time. 

“You collect all that data and look at your strengths and weaknesses,” Salvatore said. 

Moving to the next two letters of the acronym, a and r or attainable and realistic, these sort of go hand in hand Salvatore said. You want to make sure your goal is something you can actually reach and if your goal is health related, you should understand it will most likely always take more time to achieve than you’re expecting. 

An example may be if you want to lose weight: taking on a crash diet is exactly what you don’t want to do. “It’s really only healthy to lose no more than a pound, a pound and a half per week, on average,” Salvatore said. 

“Somebody once told me if there’s a diet that actually works, there wouldn’t be 3000 diets out there.” 

All things considered, having attainable and realistic goals allow you to realize there’s going to be phases or stages to the process. “It’s a journey. It’s not necessarily a destination or an outcome,” Salvatore said. 

Time-bound or time anchored, as Salvatore said, is the final letter of the acronym and focuses on keeping yourself on a time frame for hitting your targets. If your resolution is fitness related, this can also be applied to training variables. If you hit a certain time marker in your program, maybe after five weeks, you reassess your exercise intensity, the frequency or duration of your workouts and the data you collected earlier in the goal setting process. 

Creating Your Smart Goal

Thomas Wigger is a senior at SUNY Plattsburgh in the fitness & wellness leadership major and is working towards a career as a physical therapist. Using SMART goals, especially in the fitness industry, he said, is like a framework, molding your goal to fit into each letter of the acronym.

“Essentially, every goal, or at least your fitness related goals that you make, should fall within each of those categories,” he said. “It just makes sure that when you set your goals, that it’s something that you can achieve and you can follow through with.”

Jillian Husk is also a senior from SUNY Plattsburgh in the fitness & wellness leadership major, and is working toward being a personal trainer and group exercise instructor. 

“When people talk about SMART goals, a lot of the time they focus on — I mean it could be any goal — but I feel like a lot of the time it’s used for exercise,” Husk said. Any health, fitness or wellness related goals or resolutions fit well into this model. 

Wigger gave an example of a SMART goal. “I would like to barbell squat 315 pounds within six months of a resistance training program.”

Since he’s using himself in this example, he knows this is a specific exercise he’d like to improve on, and this goal is measurable because there is a desired weight he’d be working toward. As well, he knows this is attainable for himself as this weight range is within what he knows he can achieve, also making this a realistic target for him. Finally, this goal is time bound as he is giving himself six months to complete it. 

What makes SMART goals unique and effective compared to other methods of goal setting is the ability to tailor your goal or in this case, New Year’s resolution, to your personal ambitions. “Everybody’s so individually different and their needs are different,” Salvatore said. 

No cookie cutter premade program is really going to advance you toward those aspirations. 

Shaping Your New Year’s Resolution Into a SMART Goal

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

But how would one go about changing their original resolution into a SMART goal? Well, if your New Year’s resolution is in the realm of health, Salvatore recommends seeking out professional help. He also said it’s crucial if you decide to seek out a personal trainer, to check their level of experience, credentials and maybe even talk to some of their current clients. 

“You’re putting your health and wellness into somebody else’s hands… you want to make sure they’re going to lead you in the right direction,” he said. 

As well, he said you can do your own research, but if you’re not a fitness professional, it can be quite an undertaking to sift through the misleading or outright false information. Taking it on yourself can be effective if you do your own research right, but “it can be problematic as well,” he said. 

Wigger also suggested going to a personal trainer to reevaluate your health, wellness or fitness related New Year’s resolution. He said it can be a troublesome task to take on yourself if you don’t have prior experience. You may have the general premise, but a personal trainer would shape that goal into exactly what you desire for yourself. The personal trainer would gently push you in the right direction, providing guidance along the way. 

If you decide to take the task on yourself, you can start by writing down whatever it is you’re hoping to achieve, but it doesn’t have to be in the SMART format, Wigger said. Just get your thoughts down on paper. Then, “go through each letter and start molding your goal into something that’ll fit each letter,” he said.

“Hopefully by the end, when you reach T and you finish, you have something that resembles more of a SMART goal.”

When using SMART goals in combination with your New Year’s resolution, you are able to create the ideal scenario for yourself. “At the core level, you’re setting an expectation of yourself,” Wigger said. 

“I feel like it holds people more accountable,” Husk said. It’ll be a lot easier for someone to keep up with their goals with the direction SMART goals provide, she added. 

It’s a Process

Salvatore also mentioned some other do’s and don’ts when it comes to SMART goals. For instance, do follow the process and don’t give up; stay focused and dedicated. As well, if you need to take time off, then do it.

“There will always be ebbs and flows to the process,” he said. 

People tend to overload themselves too fast and too early, ending up so sore they don’t even feel like continuing, Husk said. It’s great to be excited about your goals and working on them, but if you get burnt out two weeks in, you’ll never end up where you want to be. 

She said it’s crucial to give yourself proper breaks and to not be so hard on yourself when you take them. “I think a lot of people will start something and they will be so hard on themselves if they don’t keep with it, they’ll eventually just stop doing it instead of allowing themselves to have breaks when they need it,” she said. 

In general, Salvatore said in regards to goal setting, “developing good habits leads to maintaining good habits.”

Furthermore, he said to make your goals something you look forward to by looking at all your options and finding what excites and motivates you to keep going. Along with this, don’t make your goals harder than they need to be. For example, if your goal involves you going to a fitness center, don’t choose to go to one that’s 45 minutes away. Make it simple for yourself. Find the health club whose culture fits with your values and whose members are people you enjoy being around. 

Salvatore also said along with writing out those goals, talk about them with the people around you. “Talk to friends and family, relatives and say these are my goals, because when you tell people what it is you want to do, there’s that added intensity, ” he said. “You know you’re going to get that sort of questioning and feedback from friends and family.” 

This is also another way to help hold yourself accountable and create a sort of positive pressure in your life to strive for those goals you have for yourself. 

Husk also mentioned putting your goals to paper, whether it be in a journal or on a sticky note on your fridge, as long as it’s somewhere you’re going to see it all the time, it’ll be a constant reminder for you to keep going. 

Keep your goals somewhere you’ll see it. Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

“Write it down,” Husk said. “Personally, I am way more willing to do something or stick with it when I have it written down… It reminds me everyday this is something that was important to me at one point and still is important to me, and I want to keep with it.”

Also, think about why you want to complete the goal you’ve set for yourself. What is the reason you want to reach that goal? “You do everything for a reason,” Wigger said. 

Keep that in mind while setting any goal, and find motivation through the reason you wanted to start doing this in the first place. Use that to get yourself to new heights. 

Husk also mentioned the sweeping significance of goals; if we didn’t have them, how would we make progress toward what we want out of life? “It keeps us constantly evolving,” she said. 

“50 percent of new members of health clubs, gyms and fitness centers drop out after the first six months,” Salvatore said. But that doesn’t have to be you. Making your New Year’s resolutions, specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound can make all the difference in where you’re at half a year from now. 

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