McMillan: Achieving New Year's resolutions

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Here we go again.

Tomorrow morning, many of us will resolve to make some major changes in our lives. Maybe we'll decide to start an exercise program, stop eating junk food, quit smoking or lose a substantial amount of weight.

Regardless of the goal, have you ever wondered why most people set the same New Year's resolutions year after year? That's because by March 1, 80 percent of people have thrown in the towel on their original ambitions.

With that kind of failure rate, I'm convinced that it's not a problem with the person but the process. Most people set themselves up for failure before the clock even strikes midnight because they attempt too much too quickly. They don't plan, and they have no idea how to monitor their progress.

Your chances for success will improve dramatically if you break the process into a few simple steps.

Step 1: Determine what it's going to take to keep you motivated.

If you want to change something (your weight, your nutrition, etc.), you've got to change something! Makes sense, doesn't it? But change is difficult. Most people attempt major life changes without setting up a framework for success.

Finding the motivation and inspiration to adhere to the changes in your life day-in-day-out is challenging. When people quit, it's because they can't find a reason to keep going. Motivation boils down to being sick and tired of the situation you're in now and associating pleasure with the situation you will be in once you achieve your goal. If you can associate enough displeasure with your present scenario and enough excitement in achieving your goals, you'll find it much easier to stick with the program.

Write down all the reasons you're not satisfied with your present situation. Write down what will happen if you don't make some changes. For example, none of your clothes fit, you have no energy, your blood pressure has risen, you can't sit comfortably in chairs, you feel embarrassed to wear a bathing suit, you keep gaining more and more weight every year, you cholesterol is getting out of control, you could actually die … .

Write down all the reasons you want to achieve your goals. Write down how your life will be better. For example, you'll be able to wear whatever you want, your energy will improve, your blood pressure will drop, you'll feel comfortable in any environment, you'll be more productive at work, you'll feel more self-confident, you'll lower your risk for developing heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, you'll have enough energy to go hiking, play with your kids or grandkids … .

Go back and review your notes in these two areas. Is there enough reason for you to stick to your gameplan no matter what? If not, go back and think more carefully. Once you've created a detailed list, post it somewhere highly visible. The list will remind you why you've chosen to become healthier and fit.

Finding your personal motivation for sticking to your goals is the most important step, so don't rush it.

Step 2: Set SMART goals!

Setting goals is the key to success: just ask any successful business person. But it's not enough to say, "I want to get into shape." Effective and realistic goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reward-based and have a Time frame. Here are some examples of SMART goal setting:

• Run on the treadmill for 10 minutes three times per week, so that by April 1, I've completed 36 workouts.

• Resistance train every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so that by June 1, I've completed 60 workouts.

• Train for and complete a 10-kilometer fun run by May 1.

• Work out with a personal trainer two times per week until April 1.

• Train to hike the Grand Canyon on spring break.

• Train to participate in the Hood to Coast Relay event at the end of August.

• Learn how to snowshoe by Feb. 1.

Each goal is clear, easy to measure and has a deadline. But don't stop there. Successful goal-setting requires you reward yourself once you've achieved a goal. For example, treat yourself to a massage, a new outfit or a trip.

I also want to offer you a warning: Avoid setting goals that are weight-loss oriented, such as deciding to lose 10 pounds by Feb. 1. I find that clients who use weight loss as their ultimate goal fail more regularly than those who use action-oriented goals. Setting an external goal is far more positive than focusing on body weight.

Step 3: Take itsy, bitsy baby steps.

Sometimes, when starting an exercise or nutrition program, we can get overzealous and decide to change a million things all at once. It soon becomes clear that you've taken on too much, and it becomes almost impossible to succeed at anything. To avoid this, look at your list and determine what's most important to you and focus on that first and make sure the goal is realistic: do you believe you could actually achieve the goal?

It's also important to understand that if you're undertaking a major lifestyle change, the big picture may be a bit overwhelming. Take your ultimate goals and split them into small, easily achievable goals. It'll help you succeed on a regular basis and that will give you the momentum you need to stick to the plan.

For example, if your goal is to finish a 10-kilometer fun run, then your baby steps will be to pick up an entry form and register, sign up for a running clinic in your area, purchase a new pair of running shoes and gear, consult with a trainer who will design your exercise program, etc.

One client who has lost more than 150 pounds attributes her success to the fact that she treated her weight loss like a project. She is, in fact, a project manager in her career, and whenever she tackles a new project, she decides what the perfect, end product would look like. Once she has a clear picture of success, then she works backward and decides exactly which action steps need to be taken by which date to guarantee that end result. This is exactly what she has done with her weight loss program; and as a result, she has experienced tremendous results.

Step 4: Determine obstacles and strategies.

You've most likely tried to lose weight or start an exercise program before. Most people do. They try over and over again. Something like a New Year's resolution motivates them to try again. Eventually, they fail because they're basically mimicking exactly what they did last time. This represents the definition for insanity: doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.

Whatever forced you off track last time will more than likely surface again. We need to develop a strategy for overcoming roadblocks posed by work, kids, fatigue or lack of time. For example, if previously you found work or family responsibilities got in the way of you achieving your goals, your strategy may be to book your workout appointments into your schedule like you would any other appointment. Another strategy may be to hire a personal trainer, which will force you to stick to your exercise appointment or ask a friend to join you in a commitment to walk every day at lunch.

You should be very proud of yourself! By taking the time to perform these critical action steps, you have set up a framework for success and will be well on your way to your goals. It's so much easier to get to your destination if you've got a map. 2013 is going to be a great year!

Stay tuned next week as we launch my "Lean in 2013" workout series.

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com.