Nutrition | POSTED January 11, 2022

Are You Struggling to Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions?

Whether or not we realise it, setting goals is part of who we are as people. Subconscious desires such as eating and sleeping motivate us to take action. Often, larger more ambitious goals require a concerted effort to actualise. With New Year’s just passed, your social media feed is probably packed full of resolution declarations. Perhaps you’ve also been thinking about your own New Year’s resolutions and how you might achieve them.

In preparing for your success knowing both your why and how matters tremendously. You may however find that your task is seemingly insurmountable. Breaking down your goal into its constituent parts and planning the direction to take makes achieving your goal more manageable. In some ways, raw information is the easy part. Plenty of resources exist to inform you about basic exercise and nutrition principles. For starters, you can check out our Nutrition Labels and Warming Up articles. Taking action is the hard part; that’s where we can help.

Today we’ll cover goal-setting theory, planning, action and reflection systems alongside using a case study to help reinforce the concepts covered. If this article motivates you to start your journey, we’d ask you to consider the following quote. We think it sums up the intention of goal-setting nicely: 

“You can’t change your destination overnight but you can change your direction.”

Jim Rohn

What is Goal Setting?

Defining Goal Setting

Goal setting seems obvious but is often addressed vaguely. Let’s try to make it more concrete. Formally introduced by British psychologist Cecil Mace in 1935, goals are known as a “specific intention” where incentives, rewards, avoiding negative outcomes, building positive self‐esteem, group loyalty, and more are weighed up against the effort of achieving this specific intention. A more modern definition exists as follows: “goal setting is the action of a person who has the confidence, commitment, motivation, and knowledge necessary to attain a goal that is specific, challenging, measurable, and relevant within a specified amount of time” [1].

Process vs Outcome Goals

It’s also important to distinguish between two categories of goals: process and outcome goals. Outcome goals, the simpler of the two, are the specific intention or end goal you’re after. That could be “run 5km in 25 minutes”. Process goals are the steps you need to take, which could be habits that facilitate the outcome. To achieve your target of running 5km in 25 minutes you probably would need to start running at least three times per week. Creating this distinction is important as you may not be able to actualise the outcome goal anytime soon but you can always start on the process which more often than not, will confer a benefit.

New Year's Resolutions – Goal Setting

SMART Goals

Thirdly, it’s important to “get SMART”. And no, I don’t mean to stream the entire Get Smart series (but that’s not a bad idea). Although not required, it’s generally considered that a good goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound or SMART [2]. We can also take this a step further and specify other variables such as support needed, resources required and identifying levels of performance where you might have a range of greater or, less-than expected outcomes rather than fixed outcome that you pass or fail. This last point refers to goal attainment scaling, first introduced in the 1960s by Kiresuk and Sherman within a mental health service. Having flexibility regarding the target is a useful motivator and helps accommodate for the confounders we can’t account for [2]. 

As you’re no doubt aware, our best laid plans don’t always work. That’s completely normal. Here’s where reflection and troubleshooting can be really productive [3]. To this end, I enjoy using Gibb’s self-reflective cycle although there are many available tools [4]. This part does not have to be in-depth or laborious but instead, offers an opportunity to work through your experience and figure out what, if anything, needs to be done differently for next time should you want further success. It involves describing, explaining your feelings, evaluating the circumstance, analysis of the information, writing a conclusion and then forming your action plan. This process may roll over into setting a new goal or re-attempting the same goal.

New Year's Resolutions – SMART Goals

Case Studies

So far we’ve looked at what goal setting is, but I think here it’s best we use a case study to help put into practice what we’ve learnt. Hopefully it helps contextualise the information presented thus far and bridges the gap between information and action. So, without further ado, meet “Jane”.

Jane wants to lose some extra COVID kilos after lockdown. She’s generally sedentary (does not meet the physical activity guidelines) and doesn’t have an extensive exercise or athletic history. By using the BMI Calculator, she’s currently overweight and by losing about 5kg, she would be smack bang in the middle of the normal weight category.

Jane consults with a personal trainer at her local gym and learns that maintaining or even building muscle is important. So, what does she do after learning this new information? She refines her “weight loss” goal and specifies it to losing 5kg of body fat. Looking at her calendar and events, it’s apparent that she’s got the next 4 months of a relatively clear schedule and decides to use that as the target time-frame. Together with her Trainer she decides on some process goals and establishes her support systems.

I want to make clear that there’s many more things she can do and that this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead it’s an example of how layering some of the potential processes contributes to the eventual outcome. You can also see how these processes are in isolation, useful and beneficial.

Let’s look at some daily, weekly and monthly processes that Jane can tap into.

Daily Processes:

  1. Adhere to a target step-count
  2. Drink 8 glasses of water
  3. Practise dietary reflection

Weekly Processes:

  1. Resistance train twice per week
  2. Weekly weigh-in
  3. Learn to cook something new
  4. Review week with her personal trainer

Monthly Processes:

  1. Plan a social gathering with a meal
  2. Review resistance training progress so far her personal trainer

In our theoretical example, after 4 months, Jane has not only hit her target, she’s actually blown past it and lost an extra 2kg! Although she’s happy with the results, she’d like to plan the next steps but before going on, reflects on what she’s just experienced.

It was clear to her that she enjoyed the experience and found it sustainable. In her evaluation, she found she was more than capable of hitting the exercise targets and is ready for more training, in particular she’d like to do more sessions in the gym. Based on the analysis of her weight loss, and specifically, her diet, she could afford to increase her calories as she overshot her weight loss target. With more resistance sessions and calories she should be able to build more muscle and better recomposition. Overall she feels confident about her progress so far and is ready to take the next step with her personal trainer.

New Year's Resolutions – TrueCoach app

Conclusion

Here at Ivy we’d encourage you not to be afraid of ambitious goals [5].

It’s always better to try than not try and as we’ve discussed earlier, you’re likely to at least make it some way towards your target which is better than not working towards it at all! Having a healthy attitude towards reflection can help you better assess your performance and make more appropriate decisions the next time you try. It isn’t a failure if you don’t give up.

If you aren’t sure where to start, we’re here to help.

Although today we’ve spent time providing structure to setting goals, I would like to provide one qualification, it doesn’t have to be rigid and ultimately, goal setting should have built-in flexibility. Sometimes you simply aren’t sure about what specific goal you’re after. That’s completely okay. As Luke Tulloch suggests, “focus on setting specific short term goals that move you towards long term outcomes”, even if you aren’t sure exactly how those outcomes look. If you take nothing else away from this, it can be hard to always see the light at the end of the tunnel and how far away it is, but you can at least take steps in the right direction, and have a flashlight to guide your way.

Resources

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31902133/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19237435/
  3. https://www.ed.ac.uk/reflection/reflectors-toolkit/reflecting-on-experience/gibbs-reflective-cycle
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332409418_Reflective_practice_An_approach_to_developing_self-knowledge
  5. https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article-abstract/38/4/622/1856977?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31900043/