Research projects suck.
Even if you enjoy the subject matter, they suck.
They suck because they involve meticulous tracking, endless dead-ends, set-backs, and tangents that lead you into labyrinths of new information you wish you hadn’t found, because now you need to sort through it, too.
Reaching a goal is like doing a research project. It’s not a simple trip from Point A to Point B.
When you undertake a research project, you start with a hypothesis; the conclusion you think you can ultimately support with lots of information and testing. If you try to prove your hypothesis and it doesn’t work, you go back to the drawing board to figure out what went wrong and try a new path to get you to the desired endpoint. On the other hand, if you try something and it works on the first try, you’d better be ready to try it hundreds, if not thousands more times to ensure the results are valid and repeatable.
A goal is a hypothesis, and the path to achieving it is much the same.
It’s the time of year when everyone has a new fitness goal in mind. Here are my tips for setting (and subsequently achieving) your fitness goals:
Step 1: Brainstorm
In the words of Cam from Modern Family, “Think big, winnow down.” What do you want to achieve? Make a list, and let the next steps help you decide what to pursue.
Step 2: Understand your Activity
Whether you decide you want to get active, lose weight, or build muscle, you need to understand what you can expect from the activity you choose.
For example, don’t expect to lose twenty pounds in a month by going for a leisurely stroll every night. While walking can have wonderful effects on your cardiovascular and respiratory health, it’s not going to cause dramatic weight loss in just four weeks.
If you don’t understand the effects of an activity on your body, you can’t set a goal based on performance of that activity. Wearable fitness trackers can be great tools for this.
Step 3: Be Honest with Yourself
If you know you hate running, don’t set a goal to run a marathon just because it’s trendy. Anyone can learn to enjoy physical activity, but it’s far more likely that you’ll stay consistent if you pick an activity that you already like.
Additionally, be honest about your schedule and your priorities. You know how much sleep you need and how much time you can devote to exercise, meal prep, grocery shopping, etc. Don’t set a goal of exercising every morning before work if you know you can’t get to bed an hour earlier to make up the sleep. Don’t commit to a meal prep plan if you don’t cook or have no healthy recipes you’ll consistently eat.
Instead, start with a goal of exercising in the afternoon and setting an earlier bedtime. Build a repertoire of healthy recipes you can make while staying within your budget. Grow from there.
Step 4: Create a Plan
Now that you’ve picked an activity you like, and that you’re excited to consistently do (or build toward doing), create a plan. As previously discussed, include stepping stones as needed. Impose deadlines for motivation, but if you don’t meet them, don’t give up! Think back to the research project; this is one test that didn’t go according to plan. Re-assess. Why didn’t you meet that deadline, and what can you change before trying again?
Decide how you’re going to measure progress. Fitness goals can be anything. Are you going for pounds lost? Body fat percentage decrease? Maintaining what you’ve got for at least six months? Increasing your strength? Decide what you’re measuring, how you’ll measure it, and how often. Then be consistent!
Step 5: Execute Your Plan
Just like with deadlines, if you follow your plan and find something isn’t working, re-assess. Were your expectations set properly? Were you using less energy than you thought you would? Have you learned the skills necessary to achieve your goal, or was there something you missed? How are your commitment levels; is motivation the problem?
Growth is rarely linear. The path to achievement has many peaks and troughs, advancements and setbacks. It is a research project. Be okay with learning through trial and error. Admit misjudgments quickly and recalibrate without blaming yourself or dwelling on them. Stay positive and keep moving forward.