5 Steps to Successful New Year’s Resolutions: Step 2 Planning in Reverse


Yesterday we established our Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound goal. Today, we’ll turn that goal into an action plan. We do this by Planning in Reverse. There are 3 problems most people have with New Year’s Resolutions. Many people set a goal and never set a plan for accomplishing it. They want the outcome, but don’t want to work on the process. Big mistake. Another problem is creating a plan looking forward. If you plan this way, you may end up planning too aggressively, or too slowly, which will make you miss your goal date. The third problem is planning linearly. Many people assume that if they keep making the same change over and over, they will receive the same result each time. Unfortunately, your body abides by the law of diminishing returns. Your body will adapt to the stimuli you place against it, becoming more efficient, and reducing the response to that given stimuli. For example, we can set a goal of losing 2lbs a week. This may be very easy early on, but as you continue to exercise, and your body mass decreases, you may struggle to lose 1 pound a week — without changing the stimuli. That is why we need to incorporate progression and variation in our plans. Let’s look at how to plan in reverse!

Step 1: Find your starting point.

It’s very hard to tell where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. At the beginning of our program, we need to assess all of the measurable aspects of our goal. This might mean weighing ourselves, or getting your body composition or circumference taken. For a performance goal, this might mean going for a run to see how fast you can run, or how far you can go. We need to know exactly how far we need to go to reach our goal.

Step 2: Set checkpoints

Look at a calendar and determine how many weeks you have between today and your goal, and then break those weeks into sub-units. My half marathon is going to be April 13th. I went through my calendar today and found that I have about 15 weeks until my goal. As an experienced runner, I know that I need to be able to perform at a certain level before advancing to the next level. In the running world, the performance checkpoints are a 5k race, 10k race, and a 15 k race to determine how well I can keep my goal pace. For a 50 lb weight loss, you probably know that before you reach 50, you need to lose 10, 20, 30, and 40 lbs before hitting that 50. Establish some checkpoints that are meaningful to you. These will be times, not only to gauge how close you are to your goal, but also to celebrate how far you’ve come since you started. If you don’t know what your checkpoints should be, consult an expert, like a doctor or personal trainer.

Step 3: Set Process goals

This is the most important part of your program. A process goal is how you are going to reach the outcome goals  you set before. They are also far more meaningful than outcome goals because these are the individual things that you accomplish from day to day. For my race, I plan to run 3 times a week and strength train 2 times per week. For a person considering weight loss, you should determine what changes you will make you will make to your lifestyle. For example, week 1 might involve drinking 4-8 glasses of water a day by the end of the week. When you accomplish that, build to adding a new vegetable to your meals for week 2. Remember these do not need to be accomplished all at once. That is the concept of progression. Your body will not respond the same way on day 1 as it will on day 90, so make sure you’re making more advanced changes later in the program. Day 1 of week 2 might be adding one vegetable to one meal. Day 2 you might try adding one vegetable to two meals, and so on. Each day should be the next step along the way. Taking one small step a day is going to be far easier than looking at that daunting 50 lb goal at the end of the program.

Step 4: Work in Reverse

Start from your goal date and work backwards. Now that we have an idea of where we need to go and how to get there, we can plot our steps on the calendar. For my half marathon, I knew that I needed to be running at least 3 times a week and have completed at least one 9 mile run. I then plotted 3 runs on the week before my goal. I also set requirements for my long distance day of each week. So the week before my race, I put a 12 mile run, the week before that, 11 miles, and so on, working towards today. I also have a pace goal, so working backwards from my goal pace of 9 minutes per mile, I split the difference between my current pace and my goal pace and plotted out increments of increasing speed on my speed day each week.

Step 5: Continuously Evaluate

As you reach each checkpoint, you need to evaluate your program. How  did you feel up to this checkpoint? Was your process challenging? Too challenging? Doable? Too easy? Did you reach your checkpoint as you had planned? Did you over- or under-perform? You may need to adjust your program to accommodate how you’ve progressed so far. You may also want to adjust your goal date, or your goal altogether. I don’t recommend constantly changing your goal or goal date, but it is important to be realistic with your planning. If you have not accomplished the first 2 weeks of your program, it may be difficult to make up for lost time and accomplish the next part of the process. Adjust accordingly, but realistically. So if 50 lbs in 3 months was way out of the ballpark (which it most likely is), you may want to aim for 25 lbs in 3 months, and plan for 50 lbs for the following 3 months. The important thing to remember is that reaching your goal is an evolving process. You will need to constantly tweak your program to accommodate more difficult days or weeks. It’s ok to do that. Just make sure to keep you final goal in mind.

If you find that you’re falling in the same ruts as you did every other year, have no fear, tomorrow we will learn how to anticipate obstacles that prevent us from reaching our goals. If you post some of your goals here, I can give you specific strategies for overcoming your recurring obstacles. See you tomorrow!