Goal-Setting for the New Year

New Year’s Goal Setting

We did it, everyone. We survived all those doomsday predictions (knock on wood), and 2013 is right around the corner. Many of us will be seizing the New Year by the undercarriage and setting resolutions (mine is to establish some modicum of regularity in this blog). Working in a gym, or even frequenting one this time of year, provides an interesting, but often disappointing, perspective on resolutions. As you might expect, the first couple months of the New Year come with a huge influx of new members. No complaints there, it’s great to see people take their health into their own hands. The problem is that only a bare handful of those people will stick around long enough to actually see their resolutions to fruition.

There may be a dozen factors that will ultimately play into these individuals backing out, but many people defeat themselves at the drawing board by setting goals improperly, or by not doing so at all. To get my own resolution (the more blog posts thing) off the ground, I wanted to give you all some general guidelines on goal-setting that will give you the best chance of success, following the SMART principle: make your goals specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive.



 Deciding exactly what you want to accomplish is the first step. What sounds more powerful, “I want to lose weight” or “I’m going to join a gym, get into a regular exercise routine, take control of my diet, and lose five pounds per month this year”? When you set clear expectations for yourself, chances are your goals will be more appropriate, since you’ve taken more time to think them through.

Run through the five W’s (who, what, when, where, why). The other aspects of SMART goal setting will help you flesh these out in more detail.



To really know if you’re making progress towards your goal, you need to have some way of measuring it. This is pretty easy for goals like weight loss, as you can get a nice, objective number to tell you how far you’ve come. More subjective goals, such as increasing energy, may be a little more difficult to quantify, but with a little creativity you will figure something out. For example, if your goal is to increase your daily energy, you could rate your energy regularly (once a week, etc) and put a number to it yourself.

No matter how you choose to measure your progress, consistency is important for reliable tracking. If you took your baseline weight measurement first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, all of your subsequent measurements should be done under the same conditions, not at the end of a grueling workout or after lunch. It would be the same if your goal was to improve your bench press: if you were fresh when you took your first measurement, but you decide to do your retest a day after a heavy chest workout, chances are you will not get the most reliable indication of your progress.

Going to back to goal specificity, you also need to decide “how much” you want to accomplish. If you want to lose weight, how much weight do you plan to lose? If you want to improve your daily energy and it’s currently a 2/10, what do you want it to be? You may end up setting goals that are either too lofty or easy, so be willing to reassess this as you go forward. That’s not an invitation to give up, but sometimes you have to be realistic.

That brings us to our next point. SMART goals have to be:



It’s ok to be eager and ambitious, but you must temper that with reason.  The trick is to set goals that are challenging, but not unrealistic. If you set the bar too high, chances are you are just going to become frustrated and feel unaccomplished in the end. If you set the bar too low, it might not be enough to motivate you to continue.

An oft-overlooked aspect of setting attainable goals is breaking your big goals down into smaller components. You might be embarking on a huge lifestyle change, and want to go from 50% bodyfat down to 25%. That’s wonderful, but expecting to do it in a year may be unrealistic (and possibly unhealthy). However, if you set that as your long-term goal and then set incremental goals in the short-term, such as losing 5lbs each month, you will be able to gauge your progress regularly (there’s that measurability) and renew your motivation enough to actually reach that big goal in the end!

Fitness is a game of patience. If you want to do it right (and you should), it’s going to take some time. Enjoy the journey and let the destination come to you.



This one’s a bit more meta, and has to do with examining the nature of the goal itself. Is it worthwhile to achieve this goal? Is it something you really want or need to do? Is now the right time to try to go for it? Are there any other goals or situations that have a good chance of conflicting with your goal?

Sometimes success involves a degree of timing. I spent last year coping with a fairly limiting knee injury, so trying to increase my squat, for example, would not have been an appropriate goal to set during that time. I don’t mean to insult your intelligence with that obvious example, but it can be all too easy to put your goals above other things that ultimately undermine them in the end. I talk to way too many people in the gym who experience things like shoulder pain, but won’t stop lifting to deal with them because it would sideline their goals. They don’t realize that when that injury really shows itself, it will probably cost them much more time than if they had dealt with it in the first place.



This is the last aspect of SMART goal-setting, and has been covered to some degree in the previous sections. Making your goals time-sensitive requires imposing a deadline. So you want to lose 50lbs. When are you going to lose it by? Typically when talking about New Year’s resolutions a year is a good deadline for some longer-term goals, with short-term check-ins along the way.

In some cases it helps to set the deadline first and then set your goals around the timeframe you have available. Maybe there is a big event coming up that you want to look your best for. Maybe your job requires an annual fitness test that you are training to pass. Maybe you want to run that 5K this year. Determine what is reasonable to accomplish up to that point (attainability) and then set quantifiable goals around that (measurability).


In conclusion, take the time to set goals that are appropriate for you. Channel that desire to change into a focused, well-planned approach that will help you succeed instead of defeating you. It would be awesome to see a few more of you newcomers stick around this year.

Feel free to share your New Year’s health and fitness goals in the comments below! Everyone could use a little support now and then.

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The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog

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