By now, I'm sure you've heard all the advice about smart goal-setting a hundred times. And while I agree that there's a case for making goals that are measureable, attainable, and on a timeline, there's a fundamental problem with most of our goals: They're entirely based on outcome.
This is the year I'm finally going to reach my goals! Low body fat, visible abs, and a flawless physique—it's all going to be mine in 2016.
Sound familiar? At the outset, you already know what you want. Now all you have to do is go get it. Although these types of goals look shiny and bright this time of year, it's no industry secret that the vast majority of fitness resolutioners don't achieve them.
So what's the other solution? I'm not going to tell you that can't achieve fitness goals or that you shouldn't have an "after photo" in your mind. However, how you execute your goals probably needs an update.
Make 2016 the year you ditch the resolution. Don't focus on losing body fat or chiseling out a set of abs. Instead, commit to consistently performing the daily actions that will get you closer to those goals.
Put another way, don't make the outcome your goal. Make your goal these habits instead!
Fat-Loss Action 1: Eat More Fruits And Vegetables Every Day
If you have a few (or a lot of) extra pounds to lose, one of the best goals you can set for yourself is to eat more fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Fruits and veggies are filling, high-fiber, oh-so-good-for-you foods. They're packed with vitamins and minerals, but don't carry huge amount of calories.
By increasing your fruit and veggie intake, you're basically making less room in your stomach for anything that won't help you achieve your fat-loss goals. You're also doing your overall health a huge favor.
Fat-Loss Action 2: Strength Train Three Times A Week
I'm not telling you to go crazy and spend every open minute you have in the gym. Instead, make it a habit to lift weights three days per week.
At this frequency, you'll still give your body the stimulus to lose fat, while maintaining or increasing your muscle mass. More muscle mass means your body will have to work harder to keep those muscles functioning and healthy, which means you'll burn more total calories!
My preferred strength-training template for fat-loss training is three total-body strength-training workouts per week on nonconsecutive days. If you're looking for a place to start, try the three-day routine I laid out in my article "Get Lean by Getting Strong."
Fat-Loss Action 3: Move Your Body On Off Days
On days you don't strength train, get in extra movement. This can be practically anything from hopping on your favorite cardio machine for 30 minutes, to going for a brisk walk, to doing something more fun like hiking, mountain biking, or any other activity you enjoy.
Mix and match, but focus primarily on activities you enjoy. If you're doing things you like, you're much more likely to move frequently, consistently.
Fat-Loss Action 4: Eat More Protein
It's a world of carbs out there. I'm not going to tell you they're "bad." Far from it. But if fat loss is the goal, it's a no-brainer to include a good source of protein with every meal and snack you consume. Your body needs protein in order to build and maintain muscle. Plus, protein is highly satiating and is essential for the health of your skin, hair, and nails.
Try not to rely on only one type of protein. Mix it up. You can eat fish and seafood, meat and poultry, eggs, dairy, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and other protein-rich plant sources. But get it!
So repeat after me: Protein and vegetables. Protein and vegetables.
Put These On The Calendar
There's nothing revelatory here. These are all solid, time-proven techniques. So what's going to make them work when other stuff hasn't? You're going to plug them into your calendar, like they're important meetings you wouldn't dream of skipping.
For example, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (or whatever days work best for you) write down "Strength Training." Set aside the time you'll do it, and have your routine picked out and available, so you know exactly where it is. No guessing allowed.
On other days, jot down "hike" or whatever other activity you're going to do. Like the training sessions, reserve a specific time, and stick to it. Every day, write notes or otherwise somehow remind yourself to "eat fruits and veggies" and "eat protein." If you want, you can even plan out your meals beforehand. It seems like overkill if you're not accustomed to it, but it works.
At the end of each day, check off what you accomplished. Then, you can look at the next day and know exactly what you need to do. These notes are a terrific way to stay on track because they provide identifiable actions to take on a daily basis.
Take this seriously for several months, and you'll create habits that will help you lose body fat and build a leaner, stronger body for years down the road.