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Transform Your New Year's Resolutions into Achievable Goals: Insights from Sport Psychology

It’s that time of year again, and it can often be difficult setting goals and new years resolutions to stick to. Whether you’re setting goals for sport, exercise, or esports, this article will help you create and stick to the goals you care about using techniques from sport psychology.

Anime style character carrying a boulder up a hill.
Sometimes achieving your resolutions can feel like an uphill battle

Setting your goal:

There are three main methods of goal setting that are favourites among my clients, which are ‘SMART’ goals, Process goals, and Outcome goals. When setting goals, I always recommend a mix of these three methods as they help break down your main goal into manageable chunks.

I like to imagine goal setting like having a really long ladder to climb and depending on how well you have set your goals, that ladder may only have one rung at the top. In creating SMART goals, what we’re doing is adding the rungs all the way up the ladder so you can climb right to the top.

What are SMART goals then?

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. In sports and exercise, specificity is crucial; goals should be clearly defined and target specific aspects of performance or fitness. For instance, instead of a vague goal like "get in shape," a specific goal could be "increase endurance by running 5 kilometres without stopping within the next three months."

Measurability is equally important in assessing progress and success. Goals should be quantifiable, allowing you to track your advancements. In a sports context, this could involve tracking personal bests, speed, or strength gains. An achievable goal ensures that it is realistic given one's current capabilities and resources. Setting a goal that is too ambitious may lead to frustration and burnout whilst a goal that is too easy might not provide the necessary motivation for improvement.

Relevance ties the goal to the broader picture of one's overall well-being or sports performance. It's essential to consider how each goal contributes to the larger objectives and whether it aligns with your personal values and what you want to achieve. Finally, time-bound goals have a set deadline, providing a sense of urgency and structure. This helps prevent procrastination and allows individuals to assess their progress regularly. For example, setting a goal to increase flexibility by attending yoga classes three times a week for the next two months is a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goal that can contribute to overall fitness.

Using the SMART framework in sport and exercise contexts is just one way in which you can increase your chances of sticking to your goals in the new year.

What are process and outcome goals?

If we go back to the metaphor of the ladder, the outcome goal is the top rung of the ladder whilst the process goals are the rungs leading there. In other words, a process goal focuses on the processes and behaviours you need to engage in, to get to your outcome.

In the context of the 5K running goal mentioned above, a relevant process goal might involve a structured training plan to gradually build endurance and stamina to reach your outcome goal (achieving the 5K without stopping). As an example, I’ve broken this down further below:

Process Goal: Implement a Progressive Running Program

This process goal involves following a specific running program designed to gradually increase running distance and improve endurance over the next three months. The program could include a mix of interval training, long runs, and rest days to optimize performance and minimize the risk of injury. The key components of the program should be outlined, such as the frequency, duration, and intensity of each run. For example, the individual might start with a combination of walking and jogging, gradually increasing running intervals and overall distance each week. Monitoring progress through a running log or app can provide valuable insights and adjustments to ensure a steady progression toward the 5K goal. This process goal not only supports the specific target but also aligns with the principles of SMART goal setting by being specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Sticking to your goal:

This is possibly the hardest part of a new year’s resolution, and a hurdle we’ve all stumbled over at one point or another.  Staying committed to sport or fitness goals requires a combination of motivation, discipline, and strategic planning, so here are a few tips to help you stay the course and achieve the goals you’ve planned above:

Break it Down: Instead of focusing solely on the outcome goal, break it down into smaller, more manageable process chunks.

Create a Routine: Establish a routine which involves your goal in daily life. Sometimes attaching this to existing habits can be really helpful, for instance, practicing mindfulness whilst you have your morning coffee.

Social contracting: Bring someone along on your journey or tell them about your goal and ask them to check-in with you on it periodically. Having a goals-partner can provide motivation and accountability.

Use Technology: Utilize fitness apps, trackers, or smartwatches to monitor progress. Tracking improvements and achievements can boost motivation and provide tangible evidence of success.

Visualise Success: Imagine achieving the end goal and how it will positively impact your life. See in your mind the reason you’re working towards this goal, how good it will feel at the end of it, and why it’s worth the short term discipline.

Establish a Support System: Share your goals with friends or family who can provide encouragement and understanding. Having a support system can make the journey more enjoyable and less solitary.

Learn from Setbacks: Accept that setbacks are a natural part of any journey and that some of the greatest sportspeople have failed more than most people have ever tried. Show compassion towards yourself, it’s ok the stumble or have a setback, as long as you can learn from it and keep moving forward.

Good luck!

So there we have it! I hope you’ve found the information useful and it helps with any new years resolutions you’re setting and hoping to stick to!

If you’d like to know more then get in touch below or read through the many other free articles on available.

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