It's the same old story. As December winds down, we can't wait to press the reset button and start the New Year off with renewed enthusiasm. We promise to create distance from the drive thru and drop a few pounds. We even order a new pair of sneakers to kick everything off. We're filled with resolve as we set out to tackle new goals and follow through on old ones that have fallen to the wayside. So, if we're all amped up and decked out, why do so many of us drop the ball and fail to follow through?
According to a study from the University of Scranton, 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year's resolutions. Many of those resolutions are to lose weight—38 percent to be exact.1 While three-quarters of people stick with their goals for the first week, more than half drop off at the six-month mark. Stats show that 60 percent of gym memberships go unused.
So, what happens to all of January's fresh new faces in the gym? I'm no fitness psychologist, but I know a thing or two about feeling inspired by a new goal only to later lose interest and quit. I know how it feels when the thing you want the most seems out of reach. For all of my success, I've also experienced plenty of failures. But I learned lessons from every failure, which have helped make my future success possible.
Those lessons come down to one master notion: Don't let your enthusiasm be the only thing that carries you through. Levels of motivation fluctuate like the tides, with steady ups and steady downs. If enthusiasm is the only thing keeping you committed then your likelihood to quit is higher. You need a good plan and a process.
ESTABLISH ACHIEVABLE GOALS
One of the biggest mistakes I see in goal-setting is wanting to run before you can walk. Progress isn't defined by leaps and bounds but instead by taking small, yet impactful, baby steps. Break bigger goals down into smaller, more manageable mini-goals. This also allows you to celebrate each small goal, and keep your enthusiasm high, instead of risking frustration waiting to achieve one big goal. The best part is you are no longer relying on a super high level of motivation to keep yourself committed. The more simple the goal, the less motivation it requires to achieve it.
SET YOUR GOAL IN HD—SEE IT CLEARLY
Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, or just feel better, you likely have a general idea of what you want to accomplish. So, what's the problem? Your goal is too general. Remember, your goals are your foundation. A weak goal is a stumbling block right out of the gate.
Instead of aiming for vague buzzwords and phrases—skinny, weight loss, muscle—envision your goals as realistically as a clip from one of your favorite films. You should be able to see everything in crisp detail. Your goal should have the power to make you feel something.
Looking to lose weight? Ask yourself the following questions:
- How many pounds do you want to lose?
- What is your goal physique?
- What will it feel like to fit into a smaller size?
- What will it feel like when your friends, family, and coworkers are left speechless by your progress?
- What will you feel like in this new body?
Now, use this same visualization to picture what it will look and feel like if you don't achieve your goal.
How will it feel to avoid the swimming pool on your vacation just because you don't want to be seen in a bathing suit? Live in that moment. Use your strong desire to avoid disappointment as a source of energy to propel you forward. We're far more motivated by how we feel than by how we think. Tether your goal to that force and let it push you toward your ultimate goal.
BELIEVE IN YOUR GOAL
Hopefully you're already beginning to acknowledge the power in being able to see and feel your future success. Now, add belief to the equation.
Everything you've experienced, heard, or seen in life influences your own sense of what is and isn't possible. It's easy to let limiting thoughts hold you back. Negative self talk can leave you saying things like "That might be possible for them but not for me because of x, y, or z." You might have a trail of dieting failures behind you that have led you to assume that achieving your dream physique isn't in the cards. Shake it off and rethink what you believe is possible. You must believe in your ability to succeed before you actually succeed.
When I was in college, I had the opportunity to meet Roger Bannister, the first man to run a 4-minute mile. Before he did it in 1954, no one thought it was possible, and many had already tried and failed. After Roger achieved that milestone, another runner matched the feat just two months later, and many others followed since. After Bannister broke the barrier, it became much easier for others to think they could too. And so they did.
Many people have now run a 4-minute mile, but countless have achieved their fitness goals. Use them for inspiration. If they did it, you can to. But you must believe.
COMMIT TO SEEING RESULTS
You can't go any further in the process without nailing this one down and, yet, so many people overlook this step and head straight for planning. Warning! The step between visualizing your goal and putting it into action can be daunting.
If you've never worked out in your life, the thought of weight training every day, doing cardio, and cleaning up your nutrition plan sounds like a huge task. Once it hits you, you're likely to quit before you even start. That is, unless you're committed. That's why we call the commitment the "turning point." It's the last step in achieving the proper mindset—the point in the process after which everything that follows becomes about working toward getting results.
Equate commitment with being resolute: determined, steadfast, and set in purpose.
SET UP A CLEAR STRUCTURE
Planning, creating rules, your own personal how-to—it's about creating structure. Even in society, there's a reason we have laws: In their absence, we would have chaos and then dissolution.
Think along the lines of the hectic new beginning of a struggling society in the popular apocalyptic TV show "The Walking Dead." Well, that's the way your new workout/diet plan will be if you don't give yourself some rules and structure—minus the zombies. You need pre-set parameters to stay productive and on track. When people use the term "diet," they're really just referring to a set of self-imposed rules intended to hold them to a standard.
Don't stress, it's actually a lot easier than it sounds. Nowadays, the web is rife with resources. Right here on Bodybuilding.com you'll find every possible training, nutrition, and supplement plan you could dream of. Choose a workout plan that meets your goals and stick to it. They all reap results as long as you stick with them. Resist the urge to seek instant gratification by jumping from one method to another. Remember, the plan in itself is worthless without a commitment to execute.
Every decision counts. Thinking this way can be overwhelming considering all the conscious and subconscious choices we make on a daily basis. What we chose either steers us toward our ultimate goal or runs us off-course.
Consider yourself a pilot of your own destiny. A pilot never just flies around. Even on casual flights, he or she still creates a flight path from the take-off to the destination. For long distance flights, the shortest path is as straight of a line as possible. Unfortunately, life doesn't work in perfectly straight, uninterrupted lines. Statistically speaking, airplanes are off-course more than 90 percent of the time. Why is that? Things blow you off course, you navigate around storms, and you avoid collisions.
The same holds true for the day-to-day. Just as the airplane pilot has to make constant adjustments to maintain his flight path, we have to make constant decisions to adjust our course. Once we establish a structure for accomplishing our new goal, we have to continually make positive decisions to stay on track. Consider the occasional bad decision an air pocket or bump along the way. Just keep in mind that too many slipups can leave you stranded in the wrong location.
REMEMBER THE POWER OF NOW
Do you know how many times I hear people around me say "I'll start _____ as soon as I _____." I'm even guilty of it. We all have a list in our heads of things that we have to do: a list for work, a list for home, and a list for ourselves. We prioritize based on what we feel is most pressing but, for every one thing we cross off, we can add two more. If fitness is at the bottom of your list, you'll likely never get to it. The solution: Rearrange your priorities and stop procrastinating. Instead of letting that nagging feeling hang over you, get moving and bask in a sense of satisfaction. Remember, the easiest way to start is to do something small right now! Make that your first step.
Each day, do one more thing to accomplish your goal and feel rewarded again. Keep in mind that overnight sensations are an illusion and there's no such thing as effortless success. Be patient enough to see the road in front of you. Instead of chalking your failures up to hindsight being 20/20, take the opportunity to see the present clearly. You know that time will give you that perspective so look forward instead of backward and play out the possible outcomes. Keep your goals in mind and keep on pushing. Make your right now 20/20.
PUSH THROUGH ROUGH BEGINNINGS
I'm a big believer in momentum. That hardest part of anything is getting started. It's said that the majority of a space shuttle's fuel is consumed during the initial launch as it's trying to break out of the Earth's atmosphere. Life's the same way. Don't believe me? Think of an Olympic bobsled team. The difference between 1st and 10th is sometimes just fractions of a second. It's that initial push out of the starting gate makes all the difference. Everything that we've talked about up to this point is all to get that initial push—to get mass in motion.
ESTABLISH A NEW HABIT
If you've gotten this far, then you've done the hardest part already. Now you're ready to learn the simple truth to lasting success: make it a habit! If you do something consistently, for long enough, it will start to become routine.
When you hear people talking about fitness being "a way of life," what they're really saying is that it's part of their daily schedule. It's not much different than brushing your teeth or combing your hair before work. The sooner you integrate the habit of exercise and healthy eating into your life, the sooner it will cease to feel like an inconvenience.
DITCH OLD EXCUSES
Through the years I've had countless people come up to me and tell me how lucky I am to have such great genetics and that it must be nice not having to work so hard. Fat chance! I've been working out and eating healthfully for more than two decades now. Do you think I'd have this physique if I'd been a couch potato? Of course not!
Now, don't get me wrong, everyone's genetics are different. Some people have it easier than others, but it's not all about genetics—a lot of it has to do with a lifetime's worth of good and bad habits. If I'd been eating poorly for the past 20 years, it would take me longer to establish new good habits and undo the accumulated damage. But, that doesn't mean it's not possible. "Can't," should never be a part of your vocabulary.
Still not buying it? Just look at reality television. Weight loss competitions star people who've been overweight their entire life. But, once they're put in front of a trainer, given proper coaching, and forced to change their habits, people with self described bad genetics and "big bones" make drastic transformations in a short period of time.
Now, some people put all the weight back on after they leave the show. They're the ones who were only able to make the change with someone else propelling them forward. Others leave the show and continue to make progress and sustain it. These are the people who made healthy habits their own.
How? They create an environment that's conducive to their new lifestyle. They've learned how to successfully integrate their new goals into their old setting. While that means creating structure and rules, it also means being sensitive to the influences of everything, and everyone, around you. You have to be aware enough to recognize potential environmental challenges and effectively navigate them. When times get tough, you can't fall back on excuses. You have to take charge and stick to a consistent routine, and make it last.
Tying it all together
Let's assume that you start taking these smaller steps toward your bigger goal. What is going to keep you on this path, making continual forward progress? I believe the answer is in rewarding yourself. If you don't acknowledge your smaller accomplishments along the way, and reward yourself, how are you going to keep your interest and enthusiasm up throughout your bigger journey?
If you went to work every day, but never got paid, would you be as motivated to work hard? Celebrating your smaller accomplishments is a key component to your success and commitment process. This celebration, so to speak, is going to reinvigorate you and help you attack your next goal. So break your big goal into smaller goals, create small steps you can take immediately, and reward yourself when you achieve them.
Once you master these philosophies in the fitness world, use them to build success outside of the gym. Through fitness I was able to sharpen my goal-setting and commitment methods and, with repeated practice, I was able to use these same tools to build success in other areas of my life—in my business, in my relationship, as a parent, and as a better, well-rounded person. Put these moves into practice, and they can work the same way for you.