Sunday, January 2, 2011

How to Save Yourself Another Year of Failed Resolutions

Just putting this out there: I dislike New Years resolutions.  I realize that the people who make them have good intentions, but New Years resolutions have never worked for me, and I highly doubt they work for most other people, too.  Many people find themselves asking predictable questions at the turn of the new year:

  • "Why didn't I accomplish last years resolutions?"
  • "How did last year go by so quickly, and I still haven't lost any weight?"
  • "How am I not much stronger than last year?"
  • "Am I really still benching more than I deadlift?"
  • "How am I still getting myself hurt during my running training?" (more on this in a future post)
  • "Have I really not saved enough for that trip I've been wanting to take?"
The list goes on.  Recently, instead of making New Years resolutions, I've been setting goals.  I set goals with regards to training, relationships,  education, fianances, etc. (not necessarily in that order), and then I write them down.  By writing them down, it somehow makes the goals more concrete (as they say: "If it's not written down, it doesn't exist").  I then line up the steps on how these goals are to be met; most notably, I write the action steps that are required to meet these goals.  As Dan John so eloquently puts it:

"Look at your behaviors, look at your goals.  Do your behaviors match your goals?"

If fat loss is your goal, it might look something like this:
    I will lose 15lbs by April 1st, 2011. 
    I will do this by exercising 6 days a week, and begin to eat breakfast regularly. 
    Three of the six "exercise days" will be weight training.
    I will hire a trainer/coach to ensure those weight training sessions are giving me maximum return (weight loss) for my investment (time in the weight room). 
    The other three days my exercise will consist of a 30-45 minute walk.
    To start, my breakfast will be 2-3 scrambled eggs and a handful of sliced strawberries.  

That's all.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  Just get started.  

If your goals are training related in general (increased lean body mass, improving your marathon time, becoming a more explosive football player, losing fat, etc.) consider hiring a coach.  Cosgrove already explained this well, so I'll quote him:
"Hire a coach. Outside expertise allows you to focus on your job and commitments and literally just “show up” and let them take care of it for you. Studies have shown that people exercising when a trainer only supervises (no instruction or coaching) work up to 30% harder than they do on their own. 30% more work translates to significantly faster results – imagine what you could do if that trainer actually pushed you through to harder workouts and designed a program that would work better.
If you can’t afford a coach three days per week, then hire the best coach in your area once per month and use him or her as a consultant to design your monthly workout and provide third party accountability."
I cannot stress enough the question Dan John asks: Do your behaviors line up with your goals?  Otherwise, it should come as no surprise when 2012 strikes (it will arrive way sooner than you think), and you missed the mark with regards to your goals.

 To use me as an example, here were my two training goals for 2010:
  1. Place Top 10% of the YMCA Mud Run (that takes place at the Naval Base in Norfolk, Va.)
  2. Deadlift 405lbs with perfect form (raw, no belt, and no rounding of the low back) 
I set these particular goals for one main reason:  they would be challenging for me.  I knew I wouldn't have room to slack in order to meet these.  Let's briefly cover each one:

#1) Place Top 10% of the YMCA Mud Run
I chose this because I had never competed in a running-specific race before, and I had heard the course was not for the fainthearted.  I hadn't run for a long time prior to May 2010, so I thought this would be a good challenge. 

The cruelness of this race cannot be overstated, and can really only be appreciated by those who have run this course.  It is only 5 miles, but virtually the ENTIRE course is in sand, and there are many obstacles (water pits, creeks, walls, rope, etc.) along the race.

This was what I wrote down to be sure I met my goal as successfully as possible:
  1. Weight train three days per week (a baseline strength is invaluable for ANY athletic event)
  2. Condition three days per week; two of these days consisting of high intensity drills (track repeats, hill sprints, shuttle runs, metabolic circuits), and the other day consisting of "active recovery" (mobility drills, sled pushing, glute activation/strengthening, etc.)
Now, it's important to note that during the training period for this race, I was working three jobs (physical therapist aid, part-time strength coach at SAPT, and doing some personal training at a commercial gym).

Needless to say, there were MANY days I did not feel mentally and/or physically ready to begin a training session.  My days would often entail me leaving the house at 630am, and I wouldn't arrive home until after 830pm, and this is if I didn't train that day.  But, how did I expect my goal to become a reality if I skipped training sessions??

This meant I would arrive at the local high school field to sprint or push a sled (yes, I'm a huge geek and kept a Prowler, with weights, in my trunk), at 430AM a couple mornings a week.  Or, when finishing up at SAPT around 8pm, I would linger an extra 30-60 minutes for a squat session or to do a conditioning circuit.  Time was definitely limited, so I made sure to follow the 80-20 rule, and it turned out to be successful!

I placed 18th out of 2000+ entrants, which was top 1%.  Would I have accomplished this had I skipped training sessions just because I "had a long day" or "my bed felt really good" and I couldn't bring myself out of it to train before a 13-hour workday?  No way!  

I do not write this to "toot my own horn" (countless people have accomplished physical feats of far greater magnitude).  Rather, I write it to illustrate that goals will not be met unless your behaviors match your goals!  Furthermore, it is often not easy in practice to line up your behavior with your goals.  It takes planning, patience, diligent execution, and mental fortitude as life rarely will calmly "line up" for easy action steps. 

#2) Deadlift 405lbs with perfect form
(I'll do my best to keep this one short since I was a bit long-winded on #1).

Now, I am the first to admit I'm a relatively weak deadlifter.  Biomechanically, I'm at a disadvantage (long torso, which places the spine further from the load, but enough of excuses!), and I first began training the lift a mere 2 years ago.  I severely injured my back in high school - deadlifting incorrectly due to poor instruction of proper form - and for years following I wrote off the deadlift as "an awful exercise" because of my own personal bias.  At the start of 2010 (about 1 year into training the lift) I had a deadlift max of 350lbs (I had some work to do!).  

However, in early December, I hit 405lbs for two reps (see below).  I realize this is baby weight in many gyms, but for me it was an accomplishment.  There were many days that I didn't "feel" like practicing the deadlift, as it a very taxing lift to perform (physically and mentally).  However, even on the days I wasn't feeling fresh or "all there" I would take the weight down a notch and at least get the reps in.  I'm looking to hit 460lbs by 2012.  

I honestly doubt that either of the above goals (at least for me personally) would have been met had I not written them down.  There is something very powerful about writing down what you will accomplish.  

What are your goals for 2011?  Or, even, goals for the next 6 months?  The next two years?  These may be fitness goals, relationship goals, business goals, you name it.  Write down your goals, and then lay out action steps that are necessary to be sure those goals are met.

Let's all make 2011 a great year!


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