Ashley Artese by Ashley Artese

The New Year brings a renewed focus and energy for achieving health and fitness goals. While this can be an exciting and inspiring time of year, creating and achieving long-term goals can often feel overwhelming. Therefore, setting short-term goals to work toward small wins can help create sustainable habits that lead to long-term success. Here are some tips for creating a strong foundation focused on preparation and continuous motivation to achieve small wins that progress into bigger goals:

  • Initial Reflection: Prior to setting any goals, take some time to reflect on who you are, what you want to achieve and why, what motivates you and your confidence in your ability to maintain successful habits. This is a vital step in the process, as building new habits requires understanding what keeps you invested, motivated and excited to continue to strive toward your health and fitness goals. For an effective self-reflection, be honest and critical of your current habits to identify strengths, and areas you would like to improve to create more meaningful goals. It may be helpful to engage in this process with a close friend who is willing to provide feedback about your ideas, thoughts and habits. Having someone else participate in this process can offer a perspective that may provide additional insight when creating and planning your goals.

  • Set long-term SMART goals: Following your reflection, set goals that are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant to your values and Time-bound. Take this opportunity to create long-term meaningful goals that are detailed with measurable outcomes that you can assess over time to track improvement. For example, you may have a goal to increase your one-repetition maximum bench press weight from 150 lbs. to 200 lbs. Your next step is to determine a realistic and attainable timeframe in which you will achieve that goal. For example, you may plan to achieve this goal in six months.

  • Create an action plan to achieve your SMART goals: Once you have established your overarching long-term goals, create an action plan that consists of smaller short-term goals to help you strive toward long-term success. Because overarching goals can often seem daunting and overwhelming, think of this as taking strides toward small wins to get you there. The short-term goals should consist of two separate aims: (1) to set weekly behavioral objectives such as completing a specific workout three times per week; (2) to set small biweekly or monthly benchmarks such as increasing your working bench press weight by 5 lbs. after two weeks. These aims create the opportunities for progressive gains that act as small wins to keep you motivated throughout the process.

  • Celebrate small wins with rewards: Take the opportunity to celebrate your small wins by rewarding yourself with something you enjoy that does not hinder your progress. The celebration can include a fun activity, spending time with friends or family, a favorite food or a tangible reward that you purchase. Plan your celebration activity beforehand to use it as a motivating factor for promoting positive behavior change and rewarding your successes.

  • Plan for setbacks: There are always challenges and barriers you may face on your road toward achieving your goals. Therefore, during your self-reflection, identify potential barriers and establish ways to overcome these barriers when creating your action plan. For example, plan express workouts for days when time is limited, have a back-up workout that can be done anywhere with minimal equipment in situations where you are unable to make it to the gym, and have a workout buddy for support on days when you need a little extra encouragement.

Reflection, preparation and celebration of small wins can be effective tools in helping you tackle your larger long-term health and fitness goals. By taking the time to establish an action plan that leads to positive behavior change, you can have success in achieving small wins that lead to bigger goals to start fresh in the New Year.

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