New Year's Resolution: Choose Your Words (and Goals) Carefully

The Commitment Continuum Scale

I look forward to the new year and the resolutions it brings. Although I think it is important to establish and reestablish goals throughout the year, there is just something special about the first of January that adds to the excitement of setting a new goal for myself. Statistically speaking, I'm not the only one to feel this way, as 45% of all Americans resolve to better their lives this time of year. To be honest, though, I don't know why this number isn't higher. Why aren't more people making resolutions? Perhaps it's because they've made them before and have become discouraged by repeated failures. If you've not yet resolved to make a life change, what has kept you from doing so? And if you've made one in the past and been unable to keep it, why? There are probably dozens of reasons why you, myself, and others have, in the past, had difficulty seeing our resolutions through to fruition, but I want to discuss just two of what I feel are the more important reasons we've had difficulty succeeding.

One of the most important questions I ask a client is, “What do you hope to accomplish with a training program?” The most typical response is, at best, vague. Following is a sampling of statements I often hear clients make (perhaps you yourself have made them).

“I'd like to lose weight.”
“I want to be fit.”
“I hope to get in shape.”
“I wish I could finally shed my baby weight.”

The first thing I listen for is a client's word choice. The words someone chooses to use often reflect their level of commitment and, ultimately, the level of success in accomplishing their goals. In The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition Dr. John Berardi and Ryan Andrews share the Commitment Continuum.

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When it comes to your words, what level of commitment do they reveal about you? Since discovering this continuum I've become more selective in my word choice, both in what I say to myself and to others. Words reflect your attitude. But not only do words reflect your attitude, they can change it.

Recently I heard myself say I wish I made more money. The moment I said it, though, I knew I had to change them. When I was younger I would say “I wish . . .”, to which my grandfather would respond “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” If you're unfamiliar with this phrase, it is an English proverb that is used to suggest that wishes are worthless and that better results come from action. Man, Grandpa was smart.

I changed my thought of “I wish I made more money” to “I need to commit to [actions] that will make me more money.” This involves focusing more on my behavior and less on the outcome. In essence, the outcome is simply a side-effect of the behavior. (You can read more about outcome vs. behavior here.) This year I'm resolving to make fewer wishes and more commitments.

How 'bout you? Were you one that if asked about your goal would wish or hope for a particular outcome? Take the first step today and state (better yet, write it down) your resolution. Go ahead, I'll wait. “I, state your name, will commit to . . . .” Most excellent.

Okay, now that you've committed to the what, let's address the how. This brings into play the second reason I feel people don't succeed in accomplishing their goals—they simply don't define them. Maybe they are no longer saying “I'd like to lose weight” to “I'm committed to lose weight”, and that's a great start, but it is still not enough.

In the movie The Patriot, the character Benjamin Martin tells his sons, “Aim small, miss small.” Don't just aim [and shoot] in the direction of a redcoat. Instead, pick a specific target at which to aim (e.g., the second button on the red coat). That way, if you miss the button you'll still hit the coat.

Now, I'm not asking you to go to war against the redcoats. We've already won that war. But when it comes to combating your weight, how small are you aiming? How far do you think you'll get toward your goal without knowing exactly where you want to go or how you're going to get there? Answer: Not very. In order to succeed your goal must be S.M.A.R.T. When writing down your goal (you are writing it down, right?) make sure it's specific, measurable, and reasonably timed.

Specific—Losing weight and getting fit aren't goals, they're vague notions. Losing 20 pounds or running a seven-minute mile, those are goals.

Measurable—You'll know your goal is measurable if you can answer questions such as: How much? How many? How will I know I've accomplished my goal. If your goal is specific, you'll have your answer.

And—A conjunction used to connect words of the same part of speech, clauses, or sentences that are to be taken jointly.

Reasonably Timed—Without a specific timeline you're simply wishing and hoping that your dream will come true sometime in your life. With a timeline, you'll know exactly when it's going to happen. In addition to being specific, make sure your timeline is reasonable. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, a weekly weight loss of one to two pounds is reasonable. Thus, you could reasonably lose 20 pounds in four months.

Lastly, in addition to your goal being S.M.A.R.T., your goal needs to be meaningful. Why do you want to [insert goal]? Answer this question. Now, why? Answer. Why? Answer. Okay, but why? Answer. Yeah, buy why?! There is no right or wrong motivation. It just has to be meaningful to you. If your goal has little meaning to you, you won't stick to it when the going gets tough (and trust me, if your goal is worth attaining, that will happen).

Let me share my personal fitness goal. I commit to run at least five days every week for the next 17 weeks (behavior) as I prepare to run the Country Music Marathon on April 27th in a time of three hours and fourteen minutes (outcome).

A popular quote amongst my peers is “Deeds, not words.” Ultimately it is more about what you do than what you say, but your change in attitude and action can come from a word. What is that word, your word? What will you commit to doing this year? What dream have you had that you'll now turn into a goal? Please share yours with me and with those in your social circle that will support you. May next year find you leaner, stronger, wealthier, and healthier than the last!

Written by Adam Lee of InnerStrength

1. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition by Dr. John Berardi, PhD and Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, RD

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