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Sherri McMillan’s four steps to healthy resolution success

The Columbian
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Step number three to achieving New Year's resolutions is breaking them into smaller, manageable goals, says Sherri McMillan, owner of Northwest Personal Training in Vancouver.
Step number three to achieving New Year's resolutions is breaking them into smaller, manageable goals, says Sherri McMillan, owner of Northwest Personal Training in Vancouver. Here, small weights are used during a "Strictly Strength" program at a Lifetime Fitness in Troy, Michigan, on Oct.29, 2011. Photo Gallery

Well, now that the Christmas rush is over, many of us have begun to turn our attention to the New Year. Typically, at the end of a calendar year, people will look back at the previous year and assess the highs and lows, the accomplishments they’ve achieved and the things they wanted to do but never got around to. Generally, we’ll examine aspects of our lives that we’d like to do better next year and establish personal goals for making those changes.

For many it might be weight loss, starting an exercise program, quitting smoking, healthy eating, climbing the corporate ladder, spending more time with your kids…Whatever it is, at this time of year many of us get motivated to pursue our dreams for the life we want to live.

Did you make promises last year that you didn’t keep? My guess is that you did because 80 percent of people set the same New Year’s resolutions year after year and within a few months, most 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 rather the process.

I’ve been in the fitness industry helping people look and feel better and live life to the fullest for over 20 years and I can tell you this, most people set themselves up for failure before the clock even strikes midnight! Regardless of the goal, have you ever wondered why?

Most people attempt to do too much too quickly. They don’t do any planning and they have no idea how to monitor their progress. Your chances for success will improve dramatically, however, if you break the process into a few simple steps. Here are some common resolutions and how you might approach them differently this year:

Step One: Determine what it’s going to take to keep you motivated

If you want to change something (your weight, your nutrition…), you’ve got to change something! Makes sense, doesn’t it? But change is difficult. Most people attempt major changes in their life without setting up a framework for success. But how can you get anywhere without a map or a game-plan?

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 towards 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.

For example, none of your clothes fit, you have no energy, your blood pressure has risen, your back hurts, your knees ache, you can’t sit comfortably in chairs, you feel embarrassed to wear a bathing suit…

Write down all the pleasure you associate with achieving your goals.

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, you’ll have enough stamina to 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 game-plan 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.

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:

o Run on the treadmill for 10 minutes 3x/week so that by April 1 I’ve completed 36 workouts.

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

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

o Work out with a personal trainer 2x/week until April.

o Train to hike the Grand Canyon on spring break.

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

o Learn how to snowshoe by February 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 like deciding to lose 10 pounds by February 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

Most people get a power surge of energy in January and over-commit themselves to an exercise program. If you’ve had a difficult time working out at all over this last year, it’s in your best interest to be conservative. For example, if you decide you’re going to start exercising 5 days per week, you may achieve this goal in the first few weeks. But as life catches up to you, you may find yourself skipping workouts, such that, at the end of a week, you may have only completed 3-4 workouts. But 3-4 workouts is fabulous and a heck of a lot better than you were doing before but you will still feel like a failure because you didn’t hit the 5 sessions. Be realistic. Set a goal that you know you can achieve and this will give you the momentum to continue forward. Remember, consistency is the key. It’s not what you do throughout January that matters. It’s whether you can stay on track when the memories of New Year’s Eve are long gone.

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 10km 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.

In terms of nutrition, it’s easy after you’ve over-indulged in all the holiday goodies to decide you’re never going to eat chocolate or junk-food again. But how long do you think that’s going to last? Soon the memories of over-eating will have faded and your cravings for your favorite goodies will return. Listen, 97 percent of personal trainers eat chocolate and other treats so how do you expect to forever forbid them from your diet?

In order to succeed, you’ve really got to eliminate the all-or-nothing approach. Instead of focusing on all the foods you can’t eat, instead set goals everyday such as, “today, I have to eat 2 different fruits and 3 different vegetables” or “Today, I have to consume 5 smaller meals and snacks instead of 2 large meals”. Decide you’ll only drink a glass of wine with dinner 3 nights of the week instead of 7. Or decide you’ll have 2 free days each week to allow yourself some of your favorites. Or decide you’ll eat late only 2 nights per week. Set yourself up for success.

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, who 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.

With any of your goals, remember that if you believe you can achieve something, you will. The power to aspire to great things happens first in the mind. Be prepared to regularly assess your goals and modify your actions if needed. Expect struggles and obstacles and decide beforehand, how you’ll overcome them. If you do get off track, the key to success is learning from the experience and getting right back on route as quickly as possible. Good luck!

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for over 20 years and has received numerous industry awards including International Personal Trainer and Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is the author of five books including “Go For Fit – the Winning Way to Fat Loss” and “Fit over Forty” and is the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs.

She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver and can be seen running, hiking or cycling with her two children, Brianna and Jackson. She can be reached at or Note: As an avid Columbian reader, you can redeem a 2 week pass at her world-class training studio to help get you started. Contact 360.574.7292 for more details.

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